During this unprecedented time of the spread of the novel coronavirus and the economic hardships it is causing, many people find meeting basic living expenses to be difficult. For Blacks, Latinos and people of color, COVID-19 presents even more challenges. According to the Centers for Disease Control, COVID-19 disproportionately affects Blacks, Native Americans, Hispanics and Latinos regardless of age. Loss of employment, increased medical costs and uncertainty contribute to the problem.
If you are a renter unable to meet your housing costs and face the possibility of eviction, there are solutions that can help you stay in your home. We present below resources available from federal, state and local agencies as well as non-profit organizations and private sources. State, county and city resources vary according to where you live. In addition, several legal organizations can help you understand your rights and represent you in disputes.
Know Your Rights
To understand which rules apply to you, first find out your rights as a renter. Local legal aid societies, local tenant associations, your city and county may be able to help you stay in your home. Just Shelter provides information by state. Your landlord must follow legal eviction guidelines to serve notice and evict. If you think your landlord is not acting according to the law, you can file an official complaint with your state attorney general’s office.
If you are served an eviction notice, first speak with your landlord. Explain your situation, and try to work out an agreement. Landlords may also be facing financial pressures or risk defaulting on their property loans from lack of rents. It may be more beneficial for your landlord to keep the property occupied with a negotiated rental reduction than to leave it unoccupied. According to Los Angeles real estate professional John Graff, “Most landlords would be willing to work with a good tenant who is experiencing hardship due to current events.”
If your landlord pursues an eviction notice, your state sets the terms of notice. You have the right to appear in court to contest the notice. Keep records of your payments and any correspondence or communication between you and your landlord. Some states provide a right to free counsel for housing issues. In addition, organizations like the Legal Services Corporation offer assistance in each state.
Federal laws and directives apply to all federally backed or subsidized properties. They also apply to renters who receive federal housing assistance. Federal eviction protection under the CARES Act during the COVID-19 crisis, which covers approximately 25% of renters, ends at the end of July 2020. If you are in arrears, landlords who get federal assistance or have federally backed mortgages can file eviction notices after July 25, 2020. However, if you or your landlord do not participate in federally backed housing programs, federal rules do not apply.
There are several websites that list properties that are covered by the CARES Act, including one by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and one by ProPublica. Renters can research properties in their states to find out if theirs is included.
As of this writing in early July 2020, both the Senate and the House of Representatives have introduced legislation to extend protection from eviction and provide and financial assistance for renters. The HEROES Act would extend the moratorium on evictions for 12 months. After the end of the moratorium, landlords would be required to provide a 30-day advance notice of eviction.
State and Local Resources
Each state approaches evictions differently. Many have placed a moratorium on evictions during the COVID-19 crisis, including California, Florida, New York and Washington state. In addition, many cities, municipalities and counties have initiated their own moratoriums on evictions, such as Baltimore, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles.
A bill introduced in the Senate in June 2020 would place a moratorium on evictions and fees for all renters, not just federally assisted housing, until March 2021. However, rents are not canceled, and tenants would have to pay after the moratorium ends. The bill has not been enacted into law as of this writing.
In non-federal rentals, renters are often expected to initiate a request for a moratorium on payments with their landlords. If you do this, be sure to get any agreement, such as reduced rents, extensions of time or abeyance of rent, in writing. However, as states resume business, many are allowing eviction notices to proceed.
Local renter relief is sponsored by charities and non-profit organizations, including the Salvation Army, United Way, churches and local foundations. Lawyers.com lists federal and state COVID-19 resources for both landlords and renters. Private citizens and businesses are also involved in trying to solve local housing issues. The Jewish Free Loan Association awards loans to people of any faith in Los Angeles and Ventura County for several issues, including housing emergencies and evictions.
Housing is a basic right and necessity for human dignity, health and survival. The issues brought forth about social, economic and racial inequality in the U.S. during the recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations have raised awareness of the plight of vulnerable communities. COVID-19 places additional stress on those who already have trouble making ends meet. Blacks, Latinos and people of color have a higher percentage of unemployment due to COVID-19. Lack of income directly affects the ability to pay rent and provide necessities, such as food, shelter and medical care.
A recent report by Urban Wire discusses how COVID-19 is widening the gap in housing disparities for low-income families, Blacks, Latinos and people of color. These communities were already facing discriminatory practices in housing. With many employed in jobs with low wages and a lack of healthcare, the current health crisis has increased financial insecurity. The report notes that many are unable to cover housing costs because of layoffs, loss of jobs and increased medical expenses. This disparity applies to both homeowners and renters.
Ashby & Graff Real Estate is committed to supporting solutions that change these statistics. We are actively participating in initiatives that fight for racial justice and remove barriers to housing and jobs. We are providing financial support to the work undertaken by the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund that is urging states to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on the Black community. In addition, we have cut our relationship with Facebook because we feel it represents values that we do not embrace. We are urging other real estate professionals to take a stand against housing inequities and other forms of structural racism. We want to be part of the solution.