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City Council to vote on anti-eviction ordinance Thursday

Tuesday, March 24, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

City Council will vote Thursday on establishing a 60-day grace period for renters in an emergency ordinance released Monday. The ordinance, which is sponsored by Council members Greg Casar, Kathie Tovo, Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza and Mayor Steve Adler will create a two-month grace period before eviction proceedings can begin due to nonpayment of rent.

Casar announced the proposed ordinance during a Facebook Live Monday.

“The pandemic has exposed the stresses in our society,” said Casar. “We already had so many tenants that were having trouble paying rent before the pandemic. And now things are obviously so much more devastatingly worse.”

“The city on its own can’t just waive people’s rent. … One thing we can do is to buy people the time that they need so that they aren’t worried their small business is going to get evicted in the month of April, so people don’t worry that they will lose their home if they don’t pay rent because they’ve lost wages or lost their job.”

According to a press release from Casar’s office, the ordinance would only apply during the local disaster that has been declared in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, though Council could choose to extend it in the future. “This action is meant to protect public health, by ensuring that people are not displaced from their homes during a time where the public is being asked to stay in their homes.”

Local justices of the peace previously delayed eviction hearings until May 8, which means that evictions will not be finalized in the interim. However, this new ordinance prevents property owners from delivering notices to vacate and initiating evictions. In Texas, a notice to vacate can demand that tenants leave their homes in as little as 24 hours.

Emily Blair, Austin Apartment Association executive vice president, told the Austin Monitor via email that her organization supports the move to suspend residential evictions through April 19, but, “One more moving part added to the situation – as outlined in the proposed ordinance – is not needed.”

“Our association members have already been putting to work new forms and guidelines to make payment plan agreements and implement late-fee waivers with residents during this time period,” Blair wrote. “The industry is trying to manage their own financial obligations including approaching mortgage payments, paying employees, building maintenance, utilities, insurance, and property taxes; which are not factors taken into account with this ordinance.”

Blair said the apartment association would “continue to encourage renters to start a dialogue with their property managers to ask about payment plans or other considerations to help keep people in their homes.”

In his Facebook announcement, Casar advised landlords to work with their tenants moving forward. He explained, if the ordinance passes, landlords should ask tenants if they have lost wages or been impacted by the local disaster. “If the answer is yes, then the landlord cannot begin eviction proceedings unless they give the 60-day notice for things like April rent or May rent. … If a landlord doesn’t follow the rules, they will be violating city law.”

“I’m proud to represent a majority-renter district that includes all types of households, from college students to working families, and is home to many small businesses,” Tovo said, in a statement to the press. “During these uncertain times, housing security is paramount and these actions will protect renters from eviction. I appreciate Council Member Casar’s leadership on this item, and I remain a steadfast advocate for our city’s renters.”

The ordinance, which is posted in full below, will be put to a vote this Thursday in a meeting that will be held partially online. The item is posted as an emergency item, which allows it to take effect immediately, before April 1, when rent across the city will be due. Those wishing to speak at the meeting are asked not to show up in person, but to sign up online.

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Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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