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Not so fast: CDC orders another halt on evictions amid fears of spreading pandemic

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EVICTIONS — After the state’s moratorium on evictions lifted on Aug. 14, the CDC issued an order shortly after that prevents tenants from being evicted if their failure to pay rent has been directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Tenants must fill out a declaration to submit to their property owner or landlord.

Order lets tenants stay sheltered if unable to pay rent due to virus

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order to stop evictions to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

Now, those who could have been evicted after Gov. Eric Holcomb’s moratorium on evictions lifted on Aug. 14 have another chance to cover their bases when it comes to paying rent. The new order allows those who are unable to pay rent and would face homelessness if evicted to complete a declaration to submit to their landlord or property owner to prevent being evicted.

According to Superior Court III Judge Doug Tate, evictions already were being filed the week that Gov. Holcomb’s moratorium ended. Now, it seems that many evictions will have to wait.

In August, Tate began to implement a strategy for the court to handle what he predicted would be an influx of eviction cases. Now, he said, the strategy has changed and includes making sure the rights of both residents and landlords are readily known to them.

“It’s going to have a major impact on what we do,” Tate said. “The hardest part is trying to figure out what role the court has and that the tenants and landlords are aware of the (CDC) order and what the tenants’ rights are because we are not an advocate for either side. We have to make sure the tenants are aware they have the ability file a declaration, which will put a halt to the eviction. But we can’t give them legal advice, so that’s going to be the difficult part that we’re trying to navigate right now.”

The order, effective from Sept. 4 to Dec. 31, allows residents to complete a declaration form to submit to their landlord or property owner. The form requires residents to sign that they have used their best efforts to obtain all government assistance, that they earn no more than $99,000 a year, that they are unable to pay in full due to substantial loss of income, that they are making efforts to make partial payments, and that, if evicted, they most likely would be left homeless.

The CDC’s order differs from the original state moratorium in that it requires tenants to produce the necessary declaration instead of it being a blanket ban on evictions.

Tate highlighted the fact that the CDC’s order only applies in cases where the only lease violation from the resident is failure to pay rent.

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Although Tate expected a higher number of eviction cases to come into his courtroom after Holcomb’s moratorium ended, he said he’s “just not seeing the spike that we thought.”

“I don’t think that there was nearly as many cases filed as what I had anticipated. What that tells me is perhaps maybe these issues were being resolved by the parties themselves without court intervention. You take one avenue away from folks, they tend to find ways to adapt,” Tate said.

Kokomo Housing Authority CEO Derick Steele said that, with the order, he expects many courts that handle evictions to be hesitant to file.

“I imagine a lot of courts are going to err on the side of just not conducting the evictions based upon failure to pay,” Steele said. “It actually does require the tenant to make that assertion.”

Once the declaration form is completed by the resident, it then is given to the landlord, and it prevents the resident from being evicted. The order, though, will not replace any state, local, territorial, or tribal moratoriums set to address evictions, and it requires residents to sign that they understand payment may be required in full after Dec. 31.

Despite the temporary relief for residents, Steele said that the order is creating a problem for landlords down the road.

“Without funding, this doesn’t help anybody,” Steele said. “It helps keep people in their homes, but we’re just creating a problem down the road because we have landlords that are going to have issues. We’re just creating an inevitable crash, in my opinion. We’re creating substantial debt, whether it be from past due rent or from landlords that are going into debt either to keep property or not paying mortgages on their own property. So even when the eviction moratorium lifts and the evictions start coming in, you’re also going to see a lot of foreclosures on properties. And the money isn’t just going to show up.”

The declaration form can be found at federalregister.gov.