As of September 4th, 2020, the U.S. government put an official eviction moratorium into effect. Since March, the COVID-19 pandemic has put millions of people out of work, severely reducing the income of households across the country. In addition to direct payments and various emergency loans for small businesses, the federal government sought to help those struggling to pay rent or similar housing payments by instituting an Eviction Moratorium.
So, what exactly is an eviction moratorium? How long is the COVID-19 Eviction Moratorium set to last? Who qualifies for it? And finally, if you’re struggling to make rent, how can you take advantage of the Eviction Moratorium? We will answer all of these questions and more, but first, let’s look at exactly what the government mandate includes.
What is the COVID-19 Eviction Moratorium?
The Eviction Moratorium is an official mandate issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the CDC has the power to put a temporary halt on residential evictions to help slow the spread of the novel Coronavirus. According to the CDC, evictions will inevitably lead to a rise in homelessness, which in turn could exacerbate the current public health crisis. Thus, putting a temporary hold on evictions will increase housing stability, enabling more people to follow safety guidelines and local stay-at-home orders.
It’s important to note that the Eviction Moratorium is not permanent, nor does it absolve you of your rental obligations. If you are protected under the Eviction Moratorium, it means that your landlord cannot legally evict you while the official order is active. However, your landlord can still charge penalties or interest on any unpaid rent.
As it currently stands, the COVID-19 Eviction Moratirum is set to expire on December 31st, 2020. Unless the CDC chooses to extend the official order, landlords will be able to pursue evictions after this date.
Who qualifies for protection under the Eviction Moratorium?
Anyone living as a tenant or renter in the United States or U.S. territories (excluding American Samoa) can qualify for protection under the CDC’s Eviction Moratorium. However, this does not mean that you are automatically protected from eviction if you fail to pay rent. If you want to protect yourself from eviction, you will need to follow the steps outlined by the CDC to qualify as a “covered person.” Keep in mind that you do not need protection as a “covered person” if your landlord has no legal justification to evict you from your home.
What do I need to do to be considered a “covered person?”
To qualify as a person covered by the COVID-19 Eviction Moratorium, you must live as a tenant or renter and have a landlord who has the legal right to pursue eviction. Then, you and any adult who is listed on your lease must file a written declaration (here’s the official declaration form). This declaration affirms the following:
- You have tried, to the best of your abilities, to obtain any government aid or funding for housing;
- At least one of the following applies to you:
- You expect to earn no more than $99,000 in 2020 (or $198,000 for joint-filers),
- You were not required to file a tax return to the IRS in 2019,
- Or you received a stimulus check (Economic Impact Payment) under the CARES Act;
- You are unable to pay your rent or housing payment due to lay-off, decreased income, or *extraordinary medical expenses;
- You are making partial payments to the best of your abilities that come as close as possible to the full rental or housing payments;
- You would likely become homeless or be forced to live in a shared-housing environment if evicted.
*Any unreimbursed medical expense that will be in excess of 7.5% of your gross annual income.
As you can see, many of these requirements are pretty subjective. You’re also submitting this document under penalty of perjury, so it’s important that you really meet all of the requirements above before putting it in writing. In any case, your landlord has the right to contest this declaration if they believe that you don’t actually meet the requirements. If this happens, you will need to provide further information to prove that you qualify. Let’s take each requirement step-by-step to see what you may need to provide:
The main way to apply for a government housing grant is through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Once you’ve registered and applied, you will get confirmation of your application via email or mail. You can use this document to show proof that you’ve attempted to obtain government housing assistance. In addition to HUD, you should also check your state government website to see if there are any housing assistance programs for which you can apply.
This requirement is relatively easy, as you can show a bank statement as proof that you received a stimulus check. If you did not receive a stimulus check, you can use your monthly bank statements for 2020 (so far) to show that you will likely make less than $99,000 (or $198,000 for joint-filers) this year. Finally, you can request a document from IRS.gov showing that you were not required to file taxes in 2019.
Inability to Pay Rent
If you were laid off or your work hours/wages were reduced, you should request a document stating as much from your employer. Otherwise, you can show evidence of reduced income or extraordinary medical bills through your bank statements or documentation from your health insurance provider.
Your bank statements will also show that you’ve attempted to make partial payments to your landlord. If you paid by check or in cash, you will need to request receipts for these payments. Assuming that you’re unable to make any partial payments, your bank statement will also show proof of your inability to make any payments toward housing.
Homelessness or Shared Housing
This requirement is a little bit of a gray area. However, if you can prove that you do not have the funds to pay rent, this will likely be sufficient to prove that you have nowhere else to go. However, if necessary, you can include a written statement explaining that you do not have the funds to pay for a hotel, short-term rental, or long-term rental. Additionally, if you do have friends or family with which you could stay, you should explain that it would cause a cramped, unsafe living environment.
Legal experts suggest that you only submit the official CDC declaration form first. Any of the additional paperwork above should only apply if your landlord contests your declaration. If you’re unsure whether or not you qualify, you can also use this interactive tool to check your eligibility.
The CDC’s Eviction Moratorium will likely prevent millions of Americans from becoming homeless until December 31st, 2020 (and possibly beyond). If you’re unable to make payments and you qualify based on the CDC’s criteria, you should not delay submitting a declaration form to your landlord. This way, you’ll have a few extra months to work out your finances and start making rental payments again.
If you’d like to learn more about your rights as a renter during COVID-19, check out our article on getting free legal aid in all 50 states!