A rental unit in the Washington Park neighborhood in Denver on July 14, 2020. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)
Federal health officials on Tuesday announced a new, narrower moratorium on evictions through Oct. 3, which will protect struggling renters in areas of the U.S. that are seeing rising COVID-19 infection rates.
The ban comes days after a broader federal moratorium expired on Aug 1. The Biden administration previously said it could not legally extend the original ban, and a last-minute legislative effort by congressional Democrats failed to extend those legal protections through mid-October.
“This timeframe will allow the assessment of natural changes to COVID-19 incidence, the influences of new variants, additional distribution of emergency rental assistance funds, and the expansion of COVID-19 vaccine uptake,” Rochelle P. Waslensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote in the new order.
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The new order, which will likely face legal challenges, protects renters behind on their payments who are living in counties with high or substantial rates of community COVID-19 transmission, or places with more than 50 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents. If cases drop, the eviction protections expire after 14 days, but the timeline could restart if transmission climbs back up again. A county is only exempt from the ban if it has a low to moderate transmission rate for two weeks or more.
The order still allows landlords to charge late fees or evict tenants for issues unrelated to missed rental payments. Any evictions for nonpayment of rent initiated on or after Aug. 1 — but not completed — still fall under the new order.
Currently, nearly 81% of counties across the country qualify for the eviction protections, according to the CDC COVID Data tracker. Use the CDC’s interactive map to see if your county meets the criteria.
Who qualifies under the new eviction moratorium
In addition to being located in a county with a high COVID-19 transmission rate, a single-person household must have earned less than $99,000 and a couple must have earned less than $198,000 in order to qualify for the federal eviction moratorium.
Similar to the previous order, a person is required to declare that they can’t pay rent because of COVID-19 hardships; demonstrate they’ve sought government assistance to help pay rent; and attest that they will likely become homeless if evicted. If a person has already submitted a CDC declaration form to their landlord or to the court, they do not need to resubmit it, according to the order.
If a person violates the order, they could be subject to a fine of no more than $100,000 or one year in jail, or both. An organization that violates the order may be subject to a fine of no more than $200,000 per “event.”
Jon Sarche, a spokesperson for the Colorado Judicial Branch, said it’s unclear how the new moratorium will play out in the courts because it will vary from case to case.
He added in an email that the legal counsel’s office within the State Court Administrator’s Office does provide information to the courts about public health and eviction orders, but does not provide guidance to the courts on how to interpret orders.
“It is solely within each judge’s purview to interpret and apply the law to each individual case that comes before them,” he added in an email.
A push for more clarification from the courts
Peter LiFari, executive director of Maiker Housing Partners, the public housing authority in Adams County, wants to see the state judicial department engage more on conversations related to eviction prevention in an effort to create more consistency from court to court.
“That’s not happening currently,” he said. “There are things that can be done. Will they be potentially controversial? Absolutely. But we’re in the midst of the greatest crisis we’ve seen as a modern generation.”
LiFari said he wishes the new federal eviction moratorium was tied to the distribution of emergency rental assistance. As of late June, 6.9 million renter households across the country were behind on their rent and 4.6 million were concerned they could not pay next month’s rent, according to the order.
“The minute you receive any sort of notification, verbal or in writing, from your landlord, you need to seek out a lawyer. There is money available to provide pro bono services for tenants that are in this situation, so go to a professional. There’s so much wonkiness to this stuff.
– Peter LiFari, executive director of Maiker Housing Partners, the public housing authority in Adams County
“Why are we tying this to something that is not related to the administration of the aid? If your county gets more vaccinations or transmissions start to go down, then you’re out of the order,” he said. “There’s no symbiotic relationship to the administration of rental assistance and the speed of the courts. So that’s concerning to me.”
At the end of June, Vanita Gupta, the associate attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice, wrote a letter to state court chief justices and court administrators encouraging them to use eviction diversion strategies such as slowing the eviction process for families waiting to receive emergency rental assistance.
The new federal eviction moratorium, though narrower than the last one, provides more protection than a state executive order issued by Gov. Jared Polis last week. That order gives tenants who have pending emergency rental assistance applications a 30-day period to get caught up on rent before a landlord can file an eviction. Previously, tenants had 10 days to get caught up.
LiFari, whose organization runs an emergency rental assistance program, said the most important thing for renters to do if they are at risk of eviction is to seek legal advice.
“The minute you receive any sort of notification, verbal or in writing, from your landlord, you need to seek out a lawyer,” he said. “There is money available to provide pro bono services for tenants that are in this situation, so go to a professional. There’s so much wonkiness to this stuff.
“It’s not you, it’s the system,” he added. “You’re not broken, you’re not wrong, you’re not flawed, you’re a human and you deserve support.”
Newsline has compiled a guide of what you need to know when it comes to eviction protections in Colorado.
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