Nicole Strunk lost her job as a Village Inn server in St. Augustine, Florida, four months ago and said she hasn’t yet received any unemployment benefits — but she has received a string of eviction threats from her landlord.
“I haven’t received a dime of unemployment or anything of pandemic money promised for COVID-19, and we have been struggling,” Strunk, whose rent is $250 a month, told Yahoo Money. “My landlord turned off our water on May 13th and then turned off the electricity on us two separate times.”
Strunk is one of the estimated 30 to 40 million Americans at risk of losing their homes over the next several months after a federal eviction moratorium for government-backed mortgages expired on July 24, according to a new report from The Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.
“The United States may be facing the most severe housing crisis in its history,” the authors of the report wrote. “The COVID-19 housing crisis has sharply increased the risk of foreclosure and bankruptcy; long-term harm to renter families and individuals; disruption of the affordable housing market; and destabilization of communities across the United States.”
On Saturday, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that he claimed would forestall evictions. But the order only requested that the Health and Human Services Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine the next course of action.
‘The judge calls in mostly to tell you: ‘You’ve lost.’
While many states enacted eviction moratoriums amid the pandemic, many of those have already expired, while the remaining ones expire before November.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered evictions to resume unless a local government issues an order. In Missouri, each individual eviction case is at the respective court’s discretion. Florida’s moratorium on evictions, already extended three times, will expire on Sept. 1.
“I’m one of the lawyers representing the class action [lawsuit] in Florida over the unemployment system that was set up by Deloitte that didn’t do what it was supposed to,” Scott Behren, attorney at Behren Law Firm, told Yahoo Money. “One of the big issues is a lot of people haven’t been able to pay their rent due to the unemployment issue going on even though most people were furloughed in March.”
Atlanta attorney Aisha Thomas knows these evictions stories all too well as a volunteer with the Fulton County Housing Court Assistance Center.
“Lots of people think they’ll get excused in court because they don’t have the money,” Thomas told Yahoo Money. “But the judge calls in mostly to tell you: ‘You’ve lost.’”
While most states offer a 30-day cushion window from the time of first notice, that timeframe could shrink to a week in Fulton County once the eviction protections lift, Thomas said.
“Here the landlords have to give a notice to you and if you don’t pay in five to seven days, then they can go file a dispossessory action, where you have seven more days to respond until the landlord can get an automatic writ,” Thomas said, who feared evictions herself as a child.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms extended an eviction moratorium in Georgia’s capital until Aug. 31, saving 46% of renters at risk of eviction.
“You need to respond with a viable answer in these courts,” Thomas said. “‘I don’t have money or ‘I have lost my job’ won’t help you.”
‘It really is a whole ecosystem that needs to be addressed’
Whereas Thomas deemed Georgia as a “landlord friendly” state, renters in California have less reason to worry because of time provided.
“There are a lot of protection laws in California, especially in places like Los Angeles,” said Jonas Bordo, CEO of Dwellsey, a home and apartment listing site. “I think you're looking at least four to six months in the eviction process. If you’re a landlord, you might imagine the results of that.”
Although California Gov. Gavin Newsom hasn’t extended a statewide moratorium on evictions, he has allowed cities and counties to enact their own tenant protections. (About 36% of California renters are at risk of eviction versus the 46% for Georgia and 51% for Florida.)
Once the local California eviction protections expire, Bordo said, some renters would have ample time to figure their situation out due to the “stratification of rentals.”
“Demand for the top 20% of rentals in terms of price has cratered significantly and therefore there’s a low likelihood that they’ll evict someone. It will take you months to find someone better to work with,” Bordo said. “While on the bottom 60% of rent, there is a lot of demand and therefore more incentive for landlords to evict.”
Bordo said that a new government solution should take place to address concerns of both renters and landlords.
“It really is a whole ecosystem that needs to be addressed. One of the things people don't know is that in roughly half of the places, rentals have small individual owners “Bordo said. “Seventy percent of U.S. rental inventory of one to four units have a landlord that isn’t a corporation, but a middle-class individual.”
‘You want to read the lease and understand your rights’
Many Americans are left in limbo until a new coronavirus stimulus deal is reached or other legislation to address eviction issues passes Congress.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), along with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), recently introduced the Protecting Renters from Eviction and Fees Act, which would have extended eviction protections until March 27, 2021. The future of the bill remains uncertain.
In the meantime, American concerned about being evicted should contact local nonprofits and renters’ associations.
“You want to read the lease and understand your rights and responsibilities,” Bordo said. “Every city and county has a renters’ association of some sort that can be incredibly different in one city compared to the next.”
Renters can also try to negotiate a “cash-for-keys” scenario, where the landlord can offer financial assistance to the renter in exchange for leaving the property.
“Landlords will give you $1,000 if it means you wipe your hands of the property,” Thomas said.