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Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT
Tuesday, September 8, 2020 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT
The CDC has banned most evictions. Here’s what Central Texas renters need to know.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published an order last week that could protect renters who’ve lost wages or work hours from eviction until Jan. 1.
Why did the order come from a public health agency? The CDC argues keeping people in their homes during a pandemic allows them to quarantine or isolate themselves from a virus and that evictions could worsen the spread of Covid-19.
“(H)ousing stability helps protect public health because homelessness increases the likelihood of individuals moving into close quarters in congregate settings, such as homeless shelters, which then puts individuals at higher risk to Covid-19,” the order reads.
Evictions were already banned in Travis County and the city of Austin through the end of this month, but tenants in other Central Texas counties could benefit immediately.
What do I need to do to qualify for this national protection against eviction?
- You will need to sign a declaration attesting that you meet certain requirements:
- You either anticipate making no more than $99,000 in income this year (or $198,000 if you filed a joint tax return), were not required to report income in 2019 or received a stimulus check as part of the CARES Act.
- You’re unable to pay your rent in full because of a “substantial” cut in income, work hours, out-of-pocket medical expenses or because you’ve been laid off.
- You’re doing your best to make partial rental payments on time, as close to the full payment as you can afford.
- You’ve tried your best to receive any and all government assistance for rent, which could include through the city of Austin’s rental assistance program.
- Being evicted would likely mean you would become homeless or have to move into a crowded living situation.
While the CDC does not require you to attach proof of any of these requirements, Heather Way, a professor at UT Austin’s School of Law, recommends you have documentation ready in case you are challenged.
Where can I find this declaration?
You can find it here.
Local organizations working with low-income tenants, like Building and Strengthening Tenant Action (BASTA), have said they will be publishing Spanish versions of the declaration. The CDC order does not say whether the declaration must be in English. BASTA project director Shoshana Krieger says likely the safest bet is for Spanish-speaking renters to sign the English version, but use the translation as a reference to understand what it says.
Is this declaration legally binding?
Yes. You could be charged with perjury if the document you sign makes false claims.
According to the National Housing Law Project, landlords could use a declaration signed “in bad faith” to bolster their case against tenants in eviction court. In particular, the organization recommends renters “avoid making unreasonably low partial payments” in relation to what financial resources they currently have.
Does this order waive my rent?
No. Absolutely not. Rent will come due, in full, when this order and other local orders against evictions expire.
Your landlord can also continue to charge late fees for rent that is not paid on time.
Once I’ve signed it, who do I give this declaration to?
The CDC order says renters should give it to their “landlord, owner of the residential property where they live, or other person who has a right to have them evicted or removed from where they live.”
Many renters, especially those living in large apartment complexes, don’t know who their landlord is and communicate instead with a property manager.
Emily Blair, executive vice president of the Austin Apartment Association, says the group is advising landlords that tenants can give this form to the person they normally communicate with about their apartment, which may be a property manager.
When do I need to complete this form?
At any point. If there’s already an eviction filed against you, giving this declaration to your landlord could put a stop to it.
Can I still be evicted for reasons other than being unable to pay my rent in full?
Yes. This covers evictions only for nonpayment of rent. An eviction is still permitted for other reasons, including if a renter is threatening the health or safety of other residents or damaging property.
This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.
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