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As COVID-19 Tanks the Economy, Eviction Moratoriums Expire

As COVID-19 Tanks the Economy, Eviction Moratoriums Expire
Stateline Aug6
Activists in the Mattapan neighborhood of Boston rally against evictions. In 24 states, eviction moratoriums have expired.
Michael Dwyer/The Associated Press

Editor's note: This story was updated to include new information about Hawaii's eviction ban.

Read Stateline coverage of the latest state action on coronavirus.

It’s the beginning of the month, rent is due, the $600 in federal unemployment relief has lapsed and Congress seems far from agreeing on another coronavirus aid package. Meanwhile, the federal moratorium on evictions has ended, and similar mandates in many cities and states have expired or soon will.

This week, as pressure mounts on localities and protesters draw attention to a #CancelRent movement, President Donald Trump announced that he is considering a federal ban on evictions, which he said are “a big deal.”

“A lot of people are going to be evicted,” Trump said at a news briefing this week. “But I’m going to stop it because I’ll do it myself if I have to. I have a lot of powers with respect to executive orders and we’re looking at that very seriously right now.” 

Also this week, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, pushed back against efforts from housing advocates to reinstate his state’s eviction ban, which expired in June. An executive order, he told reporters, would just cause more problems. But he asked the courts to stay evictions through September.

And this week, Nevada lawmakers passed legislation that would allow courts to pause evictions for up to 30 days so tenants and landlords can work out an agreement. The state’s moratorium is slated to expire on Aug. 31. Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak is expected to sign the legislation, according to the Las Vegas Sun.

In 24 of the 43 states and Washington, D.C., that enacted eviction moratoriums, the measures have expired, according to data compiled by Eviction Lab, a Princeton University research project, and Emily Benfer, a law professor at Wake Forest University School of Law.

Housing advocates fear a surge in evictions and homelessness. An estimated 19 million to 23 million renters risk being evicted by Sept. 30, according to the Aspen Institute.

“This is unspeakably bad. Great Depression bad,” said John Pollock, an attorney and coordinator with the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel at the Public Justice Center, which advocates for free legal representation in housing court.

As of July 29, 43% of renters were unable to make rent and risked being evicted, according to a survey of renters by the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel. That amounts to a $22 billion rent shortfall nationwide, the survey estimated.

Eviction bans in Maryland, Michigan and New Hampshire expired in July, according to the Eviction Lab.

Delaware Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, allowed court filings for foreclosures and evictions to resume July 1, but ordered a stay on evictions so court officials can determine whether tenants would benefit from court-supervised mediation or housing support services.

Last week, protesters in New Orleans and Kansas City, Missouri, blocked eviction proceedings at local courthouses, declaring “Evictions = Death” and “Shut It Down!”

And over the weekend, protesters in Los Angeles, many holding Black Lives Matter signs, blocked traffic and staged a demonstration outside Democratic Mayor Eric Garcetti’s home. The same day, in New York, protesters in Brooklyn and Queens also took to the streets.

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Meanwhile, around the country, reopened housing courts are sorting through a backlog of eviction filings. Under social distancing norms, some housing courts have opted to reopen with in-person hearings, while others have resumed business remotely.

Either option is “an impossible choice” for tenants facing eviction, said Thomas Silverstein, associate counsel in the Fair Housing and Community Development Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.

Many of the people fighting eviction come from communities that have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, he said, adding that in-person court appearances make social distancing difficult.

And remote court hearings can be a challenge for cash-strapped tenants who might be struggling to pay their internet and cellphone bills in addition to their rent, Silverstein said.

For some states, eviction bans have been a nonstarter. Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wyoming never issued statewide stays against eviction proceedings, according to Eviction Lab.

“There are now [many] states that have little to no protections in place from eviction, despite the fact the public health and economic crisis is ongoing,” said Alieza Durana of the Eviction Lab.

In a handful of states, emergency protection orders shielding renters from eviction remain. Connecticut’s and Florida’s bans will expire on Sept. 1; Oregon’s on Sept. 30 and Arizona’s on Oct. 31.

California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and Washington, D.C., have more open-ended moratoriums, tying them to the end of the coronavirus emergency.

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This year, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., have approved funding to provide legal defense to low-income tenants at risk of eviction.

Even in states with eviction moratoriums in place, renters are still on the hook for back rent, which could push struggling tenants further down a financial hole, housing advocates say.

“Eviction moratoriums, on their own, aren’t enough — they simply delay the inevitable as renters accrue debt and small landlords struggle to operate their properties without rental income,” Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, told Stateline in an email.

Eviction moratoriums, Yentel wrote, “must be paired with substantial and sustained rental assistance.” At least $100 billion is needed to keep renters stably housed during and after the pandemic, she said.

As Yentel noted, landlords also have been hit hard by the pandemic. If renters don’t pay their rent, owners can’t pay their mortgages, utilities bills, employees, taxes and the extra building cleaning costs associated with COVID-19.

Just under half of all landlords are “mom and pop” operators, according to Alexandra Alvarado, director of marketing and education for the American Apartment Owners Association, a membership organization of professional property managers based in Calabasas, California.

Many are retirees who’ve invested their life savings into their property and depend on it for income, she said. Many landlords were able to pay their bills for a few months without income, but now they don't know if they can make their mortgage payments, she told Stateline in an email. Moratoriums are just a Band-Aid, she said.

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Most renters “live paycheck to paycheck, so even with an eviction moratorium it could take years for them to catch up,” Alvarado said. “Landlords fear they will have to take the financial hit as a result, and they don't think a moratorium is the answer.”

Landlords are taking renters to court as a last resort, but many don't expect to see the money that is owed to them paid out by the tenant, Alvarado said. Instead, she said, they take tenants to court so they can vacate their apartments and fill them with a tenant who can pay the rent, she said.

Before the pandemic, evictions already were at crisis levels, Durana said. As an example, she said, in 2016, when the unemployment rate was less than 5%, there were still 3.6 million evictions.

COVID-19 has exacerbated racial disparities in housing. A disproportionate number of Black and Latino households have struggled with rent or mortgage payments during the pandemic, according to a July analysis of census data by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard.

Fifty-two percent of renters lost income during the pandemic, compared with 39% of homeowners, the analysis found.

The downturn has had the greatest impact on Latino renters, 64% of whom have lost employment income. Fifty-seven percent of Black renters have lost income, while 51% of Asian American renters and 47% of white renters are in that situation. 

“It's a race equity disaster,” Pollock said.

A legacy of racism and discrimination in American society and the housing market contributes to the disparities, Durana said. Even before the pandemic, she said, communities such as domestic violence victims, who often lose housing after violent incidents in their homes, were at disproportionate risk of eviction because of discrimination.

And Black renters, particularly Black mothers with children, are more likely to be evicted, she said.

Evictions devastate families. A 2018 New York University study found that evictions increased homelessness and housing instability — and contributed to increased emergency room use.

“We call it the ‘Scarlet E’ because it can make it difficult to get other housing and it ruins a person's credit,” Durana said.

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Local and state public health officials wield extraordinary powers in emergency situations such as the current coronavirus outbreak. They can close schools and private businesses. They can restrict or shut down mass transit systems. They can cancel concerts, sporting events and political rallies. They can call up the National Guard. They can suspend medical licensing laws and protect doctors from liability claims. And they can quarantine or isolate people who might infect others.

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