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Tenants in the USA, despite a moratorium from the authorities, are evicted for non-payment

Millions of people in the United States, following the rules of self-isolation during a pandemic, should be at home. But for many, this has become impossible, because landlords, contrary to the requirements of the moratorium, which operates in more than 30 states and dozens of cities of the country, continue to evict people for non-payment, writes Time.

Photo: Shutterstock

Robert Stephenson's lawyer says the 49-year-old diabetic veteran ended up on the street as a result of the illegal eviction Stevenson and his girlfriend Jade Gribanov stayed in a New Orleans hostel for four months, after which the COVID-19 pandemic began. The income of Jade, fortunetellers on Tarot cards, came to naught when the flow of tourists to the city dried up, and Stevenson was in the process of processing disability benefits. When the couple’s savings were over, the guesthouse told them to get out. Robert and Jade were afraid that they would end up in jail or go to the police if they resisted, so they left voluntarily. In the end, Jade and two cats of this couple went to live with the girl’s family in Lafayette, Louisiana, and Stevenson remained to live under the bridge on Claiborne Avenue.

“Overnight I lost my girlfriend, two cats and a home,” Stevenson stated, ohput all his things, in particular photographs, clothes and medicines, in a mini-hotel. Southeast Louisiana Legal Services lawyers have already helped Robert get all the necessary medicines and are trying to help his family recover damages from a landlord story.

Housing law experts say this has happened before, but the situation has worsened since the pandemic began. It is reported that only 5% of tenants paid their monthly rent by April 5, 2020, whereas last month this figure was 81%.

“Some landlords change locks while the guests are away; dOthers cut off electricity and other utilities, allow themselves to live in residents' apartments and throw their belongings out on the street. Landlords even remove doors from their hinges if tenants refuse to move out, ”says George Donnelly, an attorney for the Public Interest Law Center in Philadelphia.

According to experts, in most cases, eviction is illegal, as landlords are required to initially file a lawsuit to evict tenants. But most courts today do not process eviction orders at all. In addition, sheriffs or marshals, but not the landlords themselves, must enforce eviction orders, including overseeing transportation companies that take out the tenant's personal belongings if the renter refuses to evict.

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"Landlords lose patience while waiting for a court decision" - says Cole Thaler, co-owner of Safe and Stable Homes - a nonprofit organization that provides free legal assistance to the poor in Atlanta. Thaler usually received only a few reports of illegal eviction per month. Now they call him about this three or four times a week!

As the economic crisis developed, tenants and landlords faced not only a shortage of money, but also confusion in legislation, prohibitions and moratoriums. Although 39 states have announced different forms of a moratorium on eviction, and dozens of cities have banned utility bills related to COVID-19, landlords still have ways to evict tenants. According to Emily Benfer, a visiting clinical professor at Columbia University Law School, only nine states have prohibited landlords from sending eviction notices to tenants. Tenants, having received such notifications, begin to get nervous and move out, even if they are protected by a moratorium, Benfer explains.

The CARES Act, passed by Congress in March, bans evictions within 120 days, but it only applies to tenants of mortgaged and federally funded properties - just a quarter of the properties leased, according to the data. Urban Institute... This makes most renters dependent on state or local laws, which helps to avoid illegal evictions. “This situation really showed the inadequacy of our social protection system,” says Benfer.

But even in states with moratoriums on eviction, many tenants are not 100% protected. The eviction process is divided into several stages: notifying the tenant, transferring the case to court and obtaining permission from the judge to evict. As a result, only 20 US states banned law enforcement from executing eviction orders, and only Connecticut and New Hampshire froze every step of the process.

In Alaska, California, Maryland, and several other states, tenants must provide evidence that their financial difficulties are related to the COVID-19 pandemic if they want to avoid eviction. Colorado and Ohio are among the states that have left the final eviction decision to the discretion of local jurisdictions, while Arkansas allows judges to conduct eviction hearings remotely. In many regions, sheriffs are executing eviction decisions that were approved before the crisis due to COVID-19. So, according to Tony Botti, the representative of the Fresno County Sheriff in California, evictions were carried out until April 1. In California, Riverside County sheriffs still carry out evictions that were approved before COVID-19.

On the subject: 7 things New York City tenants need to know during the COVID-19 pandemic

Between March 16 and April 13, 602 new eviction cases were opened in Massachusetts. This means that many tenants received letters that annul their rent and were notified of the upcoming court date by an automatically generated notification after all courts were closed due to quarantine.

Connecticut now has a grace period that gives tenants extra time to pay rent after the moratorium on eviction. This means that after the opening of courts across the country, evictions will boom. Owners of apartments note that they also experience financial difficulties, because they have accumulated debts, because their real estate ceases to be profitable. The situation is similar in Idaho, where the decree ordering the courts to conduct shortened operations expires on April 15, which means that a wave of evictions is just around the corner.

According to the National Association of Homeowners, on average, only 9 cents of every dollar of rent received is returned to owners in net profit; 39 cents goes to mortgages, while the rest goes to taxes, wages and housing improvements. In cities like Orlando, some landlords own entire buildings where amusement park employees have rented, says Bob Pinnegar, CEO of the National Homeowners Association. Apartment owners expected to be able to obtain loans for small businesses under the CARES Law, but this did not happen.

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Soon, many tenants will receive from the government benefits of $ 1200 and additional unemployment benefits of $ 600 dollars per week in accordance with the CARES Act. These funds have not yet reached the wallets of most residents, but they are no longer enough to cover all costs. The coronavirus pandemic began a period when real estate prices rose faster than wages, and many people were already finding it possible to pay rent. And only every fourth family that has the right to state housing assistance receives it. As a result, millions of people in the United States spend more than half of their rental income, says Matthew Desmond, a professor of sociology at Princeton and author of The Evicted: Poverty and Profit in an American City. Desmond states that Richmond, Virginia and Wilmington, Delaware already had high eviction rates before COVID-19. For example, 1 out of 13 tenants was forcibly evicted from rented housing through the courts. So far, one can only guess what the situation will be with the eviction in these cities after quarantine.

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It is proved that forced eviction becomes a stain on a person’s reputation and can lead to job loss. A recorded court eviction protocol may also hinder the search for new housing.

“Many are forced to move to worse homes and areas than where they lived before,” Desmond says. "Since people evicted during the COVID-19 pandemic have no way to save money for a deposit for other housing, most of them will be on the streets before the crisis subsides."

Those who are still successfully struggling with the risk of eviction, accumulate stress due to the fact that they do not know how they will pay the debt for rent. Carla and Ricky Phelan, despite a moratorium that came into effect on March 20, were evicted March 25 from a motel in Springfield, Illinois; The 58-year-old head of the family worked in retail until he suffered a stroke in 2019. His 52-year-old wife worked at Subway, but due to quarantine, her working hours were reduced. The Land of Lincoln legal counsel petitioned the court, and the judge agreed that the eviction was illegal, so the couple was able to return to the motel two days after she was kicked out.

Carla says that this experience was “nightmare”. But now the family has one more reason for anxiety. Every day, a motel representative leaves a bill at the couple's door, summing up all unpaid days - $ 60 each. The Phelan couple had previously owed $ 700. Now the amount of debt is growing every day.

In some parts of the country (usually in cities with strong tenant protection and clear police instructions on how to behave in the event of illegal eviction) the problem is not serious. "The environment is directly related to the level of adherence to the rules of the relationship between the landlord and tenant," says Kashauna Hill, executive director of Fair Housing Action Center, which provides free advice and legal services to tenants.

Even before the crisis, unscrupulous landlords in New York faced fines of up to $ 1. Such measures made homeowners think twice before putting people on the street. Tenants whose rights have been violated can contact the police and sue. State law states that no one has the right to evict for failure to pay a person who has already lived in a rented building for more than 000 days without a warrant.

If tenants are faced with injustice in another city where there are no such strict rules, experts recommend contacting the police immediately. If you are worried that you may be unlawfully evicted, then when you leave home, take with you mail with your name - as proof that you really live at this address. In addition, the tenant can hang a note on the door demanding that the owner of the property provide all information exclusively in writing.

The problem of finding options to counter illegal eviction will soon become even more relevant. For example, in Georgia, if the police refuse to obstruct the illegal eviction of tenants, tenants should seek emergency legal assistance, which would likely result in a temporary injunction against the landlord, said Lindsay Siegel, a senior lawyer for the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, which specializes in housing issues.

While some lawyers are calling for a “freeze” on rent payments in response to the COVID-19 situation, others say that the best solution would be to pay additional benefits from the state. Andrew Aurand, Social Research Scientist at the National Low Income Housing Coalition, suggests making a public funding decision to get people to receive an additional $ 600 per week unemployment benefit in August, or emergency benefits to immediately help tenants who are not receiving benefits. unemployment.

This idea is also supported by apartment owners. In a letter to Congress on April 7, the National Council for Multi-Family Housing and the National Association of Homeowners asked for emergency assistance for tenants.

A certain property owner, Camden Property Trust, has created its own assistance fund with a budget of $ 5 million for tenants. Within 16 minutes he received 2520 applications!

For people who are one step away from eviction, help may come too late. James Gray, a 49-year-old builder, has been living on the street since April 10 after being evicted from a Las Vegas motel. When the construction site was frozen due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gray said that he paid as much as he could: sometimes $ 80 per day, although the total cost of living was $ 113. But on April 6 he was evicted, despite the moratorium in force in Nevada since March 29. Gray says that when he told representatives of the motel that a moratorium should protect his rights, the guards began to break open the door and called the police, accusing Gray of violating the boundaries of private property. (The motel did not respond to a request for comment.) Gray does not want to go to a homeless shelter for fear of contracting a coronavirus. But he can’t even sleep in his car, because the car was towed from the motel’s parking lot. Now it takes more than $ 670 to receive it. A man does not have that kind of money.

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