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Here’s What the CDC Eviction Moratorium Means for Local Renters

Brent Warren Brent Warren Here’s What the CDC Eviction Moratorium Means for Local Renters
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a national moratorium on evictions on September 2; the eviction moratorium order went into effect two days later and will run through the end of 2020.

The news of the moratorium has been greeted with relief by local housing advocates and service providers, many of whom feared a spike in evictions in the late summer and early fall, when the protection offered by a more limited moratorium covering federally-insured housing was set to expire.

Advocates, however, are also quick to point out two important caveats:

  • Tenants need to meet certain criteria to qualify for eviction protection, and they are required to act in order to receive it, by filling out a form (PDF here) and delivering it to their landlord.
  • In the long term, without another round of federal stimulus checks or a return of the increased unemployment benefits put in place last spring, the new policy may just push the problem down the road – all of that rent will still be due, just not until January of 2021, when the moratorium expires.

Shelley Whalen is the Executive Director of Community Mediation Services of Central Ohio, an organization that works to prevent evictions through third-party mediation.

“We certainly expect that [the new moratorium] will help,” she says, “but the most substantial element we are trying to communicate is that tenants must proactively get into their hands a tenant declaration stating that they meet the criteria set out by the CDC for relief, then fill it out and get it to their landlord.”

There are multiple organizations offering help in filling out the form and answering questions about the new policy, but Whalen suggests two online resources for local renters to start with; the Franklin County Municipal Court Help Center and the Legal Aid Society of Columbus.

“The tenant is not absolved of responsibility to pay rent, they still need to pay, as much as the can and as often as they can,” Whalen says, adding that one of the criteria of the CDC moratorium is that the tenant “needs to affirm that they are making their best effort to look for financial assistance to pay rent.”

That requirement has led to a sharp increase in applications for rental assistance from the IMPACT Hope Fund, a pot of money that has grown in the last six months as a range of local government entities and private funders have contributed to it.  

“That’s something that historically has always been very limited in this community,” says Whalen, referring to the new rental assistance funding.

Community Mediation Services, Legal Aid and other organizations are on site at the Greater Columbus Convention Center – where eviction proceedings have been taking place since the court reopened in June – to help renters sort through the new rules and apply for rental assistance. Help is also being offered online and over the phone.

Whalen estimates that about 70 percent of the landlords they have been interacting with in the last few months have been flexible and willing to work with tenants who are in danger of being evicted.

Bruce Luecke, President/CEO of Homeport, a nonprofit developer of affordable housing that also serves as a landlord for over 2,400 tenants, says that his organization has been allowing partial payments and working to craft individualized payment plans.

“We have put a lot of time and effort on that, it’s a commitment we’re making to residents; we need to keep you housed,” he says, adding that a big part of their efforts also involves helping tenants access the rental assistance that is currently available. “If it’s a direct COVID-19 impact, we can use HOPE funds, if it’s not, we have our own fund.”

The new CDC moratorium is not the only significant change to the local evictions landscape this month – a September 1 ruling from the Tenth District Court of Appeals means that landlords in Franklin County must now show up to court for eviction proceedings.

Franklin County had been the last in the state that still allowed landlords to submit an affidavit in lieu of being physically present to submit testimony for an evictions hearing.

“They’ll have to be there and available to answer questions and respond to any differences,” explains Whalen. “I anticipate it will make an enormous difference.”

For more information, see communitymediation.com.

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