Just before the state’s moratorium on rental evictions was to end, Governor Eric Holcomb extended the date by one more month.
Holcomb signed an executive order last week further extending the state’s moratorium on rental evictions to the end of July. That moratorium on rental evictions and mortgage foreclosures has been in place since early March and came in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left the state with an unemployment rate of 12.3 percent in May, a significant increase over the 3.3 percent recorded in May of last year.
Locally, the unemployment rate has been higher than the statewide average for both April and May, reaching a height of 34.1 percent in April before dropping to 21.8 percent in May. Some local landlords are warily eyeing the end of July while moratoriums remain in place, as that is also when the additional unemployment benefits from the federal government currently are set to expire.
At Park Place Apartments, manager Nicolai Naranjo said a high percentage of his renters have managed to pay rent to this point, about 97 percent, but he was concerned about the expiration of the additional unemployment benefits.
“We were slightly surprised, and I think we were more waiting for the stimulus money to dry up. And then I think we’ll all have a much clearer picture of where this all stands,” said Naranjo. “At the time, there’s unemployment benefits. Most people who are on unemployment are making an extra $600.”
For those who are struggling to pay rent, Naranjo said his complex has tried to keep an open line of dialogue, working out payment plans if tenants are unable to make ends meet due to unemployment. In some cases, residents already are foreseeing an inability to pay rent when the moratorium is up.
In those cases, Naranjo said he’s considering plans to allow renters to terminate their leases without the fees that normally would be associated with terminating a lease early.
“We would like to do that. I’m not going to openly say that’s what we’re going to do unequivocally, but we want to be able to work with everyone,” said Naranjo. “Our intention is, we’re all in this together. Our intention isn’t to nickel and dime people. We understand people have to make tough choices, and if you have to leave your apartments to move back home or be somewhere else, we’re willing to work with you on that.”
Recently, the governor also enacted the COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program, which will provide financial assistance of up to $500 to renters a month for up to four months. This program requires a landlord to agree to participate.
Locally, evictions are filed in Howard Superior III with Judge Doug Tate.
Tate said it’s unknown how many evictions may be filed once the moratorium ends at the end of July. He said normally a “few hundred” evictions are filed in his court a month, and he anticipated a backlog once evictions could be filed again.
While he noted he can’t prejudge cases, Tate said he anticipated dealing with evictions on a case-by-case basis.
“When they come through I intend to take a very close look at each individual circumstance, paying particular attention to what effect did the virus have on a renters ability to pay,” said Tate. “Were they in default prior to the moratorium going into effect? I’ll be looking at ways to have alternatives to a straight eviction, putting them on some sort of plan to pay rent and that sort of thing. But we’ll look at a number of creative options to make sure we don’t have a mass of individuals kicked out of their homes for things that were largely out of their control.”