Navigating Evictions in the Time of COVID-19Published: Jun 09, 2020 by Brandon Smith
Prior to the current COVID-19 global pandemic, evictions were a routine procedure that allowed landlords to remove tenants who failed to pay rent, engaged in illegal activity, or otherwise violated their lease agreement or the Landlord-Tenant Act. The routine nature of evictions has been substantially altered during the course of this pandemic by all levels of government from the local municipal courts to Congress.
On March 25, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced that owners of multifamily properties backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgages would be granted mortgage forbearance relief. In exchange for that relief, housing providers must place a 90-day hold on evictions.
On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was enacted with the goal of aiding individuals and businesses negatively impacted by the global pandemic. Similar to the FHFA’s announcement, the CARES Act includes two main orders affecting homeowners, landlords, and tenants.
First, the Act allows owners of properties with federally backed multifamily mortgage loans to seek forbearance because of financial hardship during the health emergency for up to 90 days. In exchange, during the forbearance period, the borrower may not issue a notice to vacate, initiate an eviction filing, or assess fees, penalties or other charges on tenants for nonpayment or late payment of rent. Additionally, a borrower who received forbearance may not issue a notice to vacate until after the expiration of the forbearance or require the tenant to vacate until 30 days after the notice to vacate has been issued.
Second, separately from the forbearance requirements, the CARES Act imposed a moratorium on evictions for 120 days (from March 27, 2020 through July 24, 2020) which applies to a covered dwelling, regardless of whether the landlord receives forbearance. Landlords are prohibited from issuing a notice to vacate, initiating an eviction filing, or assessing fees or penalties on residents for non-payment of rent. Additionally, landlords may not issue a notice to vacate until after the expiration of the moratorium or require a tenant to vacate until 30 days after the notice to vacate has been issued.
Tenants are protected by this temporary moratorium on evictions and late fees only if they live in a covered dwelling, which generally includes rental homes that are receiving federal subsidies or properties with a federally backed mortgage. Specifically, the Act covers a property that:
- participates in a covered housing program as defined by the Violence Against Women Act which includes most forms of federal subsidies to landlords and federal rent assistance to tenants
- participates in the rural housing voucher program under section 542 of the Housing Act of 1949; or
- has a federally backed multifamily mortgage loan.
This moratorium does not remove tenants’ obligations to pay rent or otherwise comply with the terms of their lease agreement.
It is also important to note that the eviction moratorium does not address evictions based on reasons other than nonpayment of rent, fees, or charges. Therefore, presumably, if local courts allow it, during the moratorium period a landlord may still evict tenants for other reasons unrelated to nonpayment and late payment. Further, the federal eviction moratorium does not prohibit filing of cases:
- That were filed before the moratorium took effect (before March 27, 2020) or that are filed after it ends (on or after July 25, 2020); or
- That involve non-covered tenancies
The CARES Act supplements any existing state or local eviction moratoria and rent freezing. For example, in Ohio, after Governor DeWine announced that local courts would determine how to handle evictions during the pandemic, the Franklin County Municipal Court issued several Administrative Orders. As a result of those Administrative Orders, Franklin County courts postponed all eviction actions through June 1, 2020.
Eviction proceedings have begun again in Franklin County. However, among several changes, they now occur at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, which provides a substantially larger space, in an effort to continue to limit the spread of COVID-19.
If you are a landlord and have questions regarding the new procedures or the impact of the CARES act on your business, you should consider contacting an attorney. Attorney Brandon Smith can be reached at (614) 228-5800, ext. 7.