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Eviction Moratorium: How to Stay Protected Until December
Many people will be relieved to mark the end of a tumultuous 2020, but for the estimated 43 million renters in the U.S., January 1st brings new worries. If you’re a tenant, this is what you need to know.
The basics of the rent moratorium
The current rent moratorium is the product of two different federal orders. The first set of protections came via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which protects renters living in federally subsidized or federally-supported housing. Then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) intervened with a second, more inclusive rent moratorium. It builds upon what the CARES Act started but extends protections to a wider majority of renters in the effort to stop the spread of coronavirus.
What it does: Your landlord cannot evict you due to a lack of payments through December 31, 2020. You are not living rent-free during this time; you are simply being given an extension on your rent payments through the end of the year in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
There are five basic requirements in the CDC moratorium, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1746:
- You must exercise “best efforts” to receive any possible government assistance to help with rent and housing;
- You must either expect to earn no more than $99,000 in annual income for 2020 (or no more than $198,000 if filing a joint tax return), were not required to report any income in 2019 to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, or received an Economic Impact Payment (stimulus check) under Section 2201 of the CARES Act;
- Your reason(s) for lack of payment include substantial loss of household income, loss of compensable hours of work or wages, lay-offs, or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses (defined as likely to surpass 7.5% of your annual adjusted gross income);
- You are making “best efforts” to make at least partial rent payments or as much as your finances allow;
- Your eviction will likely cause homelessness or close or shared quarters with others.
If you’re not sure if you meet the requirements, Suffolk University Law School’s interactive tool can help you decide and even create an eligibility declaration for you. The CDC moratorium also includes eviction protections from the CARES Act for those loans backed by the FHA, VA, USDA, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. The CARES Act may also offer relief to your landlord, which, in turn, would extend these protections to you and for a potentially longer period of time.
CDC eviction moratorium facts for tenants
To benefit from the protections of the CDC’s rent moratorium, you will have to sign a declaration that does two things:
- Confirms the loss of income due to COVID and;
- Vows an ongoing effort to find financial assistance.
You must swear under perjury with your signature, so you are subject to legal repercussions like fines and even jail if you lie on the form. In signing the form, you agree to honor the financial obligations of your lease according to these new provisions. While you will need to meet the requirements to participate, the CDC does not require you to attach any documentation – you simply submit the form. It’s a little confusing, so here’s a simplified breakdown of what the CDC rent moratorium does and does not do.
What it does
- Takes into account job losses, reduced hours and rising unemployment
- Covers tenants, lessees and residents of residential properties
- Prevents eviction for eligible rentals
- Provides coverage through 12/31/2020, unless modified or extended
- Prevents the spread of COVID
What it doesn’t do
- Does not remove the burden of rent; you will still have to pay but have more time to do so
- Does not cover late fees, so this is up to your landlord unless your local area has its own orders
- Does not affect any balance due prior to moratorium
- Doesn’t provide any actual money, only an extension on rent due during the effective dates
- Does not protect you from violations for other reasons, such as criminal activity
- Does not affect foreclosures
What’s also important to know is that even if you get a break on your rental payments, your landlord could demand payment in full on January 1, 2021, under current CDC provisions.
What to do if you are behind on your rent
To benefit from these protections, you will need to complete the official affidavit. The affidavit is for one individual only, so your household may need to file multiple copies. Each person on the lease, rental agreement or contract must complete a form. Once complete, you will need to submit the form to your landlord or whatever evicting party applies to your rental property. Be sure to submit electronically, via certified mail or use another way that allows for proof of delivery just in case. You also should keep a copy for your personal records.
Other legal factors to keep in mind
Legal experts warn that landlords could challenge this declaration, requesting copies of your bank statements or another form of substantial proof showing financial hardship. If so, it could fall to your local housing court to decide your fate. Stimulus checks are not meant as a means of rent, so even though some landlords have tried, you are not obligated to turn over stimulus or charity money. At the end of the day, trouble may be avoided if you talk to your landlord. It’s hard to find one who has not been personally affected by COVID-19, and your landlord might be more understanding than you think.
What to do if you are facing financial hardship
While helpful, the moratorium does not provide actual financial assistance — the order only goes as far as the extension, but you are on your own to find actual financial relief. Still, there are many resources that can help, such as these.
|Department of Housing and Urban Development||State-by-state listings of housing assistance and support programs|
|HUD Office of Housing Counseling||Helps you find a local housing counselor|
|Consumer Financial Protection Bureau||Provides support and resources for when you can’t pay your bills|
|National Low Income Housing Association||Provides a comprehensive listing of rent relief programs|
|211.org||Links to community pandemic assistance programs for essential services, like food, housing and utilities|
|JustShelter.org||A nonprofit that helps pair renters facing eviction with local resources|
|HUD Housing Complaint Filing||You can submit a complaint if you feel your housing rights have been violated.|
|White House Coronavirus Task Force||Provides the latest updates in cooperation with the CDC and HHS|
|Financial Counseling Association of America||Pairs you with a credit counselor for local help|
|NOLO||Provides legal resources and support for COVID-related housing issues|
|National Housing Preservation Database||Provides a look-up tool for properties subject to the CARES Act|
|Fannie Mae Renters Resource Finder||Comprehensive resources for Fannie Mae renters|
|Freddie Mac Renters Resource Finder||Comprehensive resources for Freddie Mac renters|
Other options to consider
There is always the legal route, and resources like LegalAid can help you find support in your area. DoNotPay.com is another excellent resource with a helpful chat feature to assist in finding COVID-related relief and legal support.
Another option to consider is relocation. While it won’t change any outstanding obligations to your existing landlord, you could very well find a new, more affordable home. Real estate has been significantly impacted by coronavirus, and while rent has increased in some areas, the average rent went down as much as 34.7% in states like Texas, North Dakota, California and Florida.
Sites like Zillow, Realtor.com, Trulia and Zumper can all help you find a new home at a price that’s more budget-friendly. By lowering how much you pay in rent each month, you can both manage your monthly rent and have some money to put aside.
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