What to do if you’re at risk of eviction

Real Estate

Alaina Lattin and her family

Alaina Lattin was served an eviction notice last month at her home in Conroe, Texas.

“It was a very loud banging,” Lattin, 32, said. “They just kept screaming, ‘Leasing office! Leasing office!'” Now, the single mother is worried that she and her four children will become homeless. 

Lattin is one of millions of Americans facing eviction amid the coronavirus pandemic. Even as unemployment levels remain at historic highs and cases of the virus continue to surge, the federal eviction moratorium in the first stimulus package was allowed to expire at the end of last month.

President Donald Trump said the executive action he took over the weekend would help keep renters in their homes, but advocates say the move won’t actually do much

“It creates the impression that something was done when, in fact, nothing was done,” said John Pollock, coordinator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel. 

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Meanwhile, statewide bans on evictions have ended in more than 30 states. By one estimate, some 40 million Americans could lose their homes during the public health crisis, four times the amount seen during the Great Recession.

“The United States is facing the most severe housing crisis in history,” said Emily Benfer, visiting professor of law at Wake Forest University.

Even though most relief measures have dried up by now, there might be rules in place to help keep you in your home.

The CARES Act passed in March banned evictions in properties with federally backed mortgages and for tenants who receive government-assisted housing. That protection expired on July 24.

Still, landlords must give tenants who were protected by the CARES Act at least 30 days notice before they evict them, said Alexis Erkert, a lawyer at Southeast Louisiana Legal Services. 

Normally, an eviction judgement in Louisiana can be as little as 24 hours. “So it’s a really big deal for tenants here that their landlords have to give them 30 days notice,” Erkert said. 

Government-sponsored lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac released tools recently that help renters search their property to learn if it qualifies for the eviction moratorium, and therefore the 30 days notice. The Urban Institute estimates the provision covers nearly 30% of the country’s rental units. 

Meanwhile, many courts have moved to remote hearings during the public health crisis. In some courts, both the landlord and tenant have to agree to a virtual hearing. If they don’t, the case won’t be scheduled until the hearings move back to the courtroom, Benfer said. This can be another way to buy yourself some time. 

In some states where the statewide moratorium on evictions has lapsed, some towns, cities and counties have established their own protections for renters. You can find out what policies apply to you in this database that Benfer continues to update. Your landlord might not know of them, or be ignoring them

We’d rather work something out than having nothing at all. Landlords don’t want to evict tenants.

Debi Stobi

building owner in Lakewood, Colorado

At Justshelter.org, you can search for community resources for people at risk of eviction. Some states and cities have funds allocated to help people stay in their homes. Arizona earmarked $5 million for that purpose. Residents in Delaware can apply for up to $1,500 in rental assistance. Similar relief measures were made available to those in MontanaOhio, Iowa and New York. If you’re accepted for the assistance, make sure to let your landlord know right away. 

Many landlords are showing a willingness to work with tenants who ask for payment plans, experts say. Debi Stobi owns a 25-unit building in Lakewood, Colorado. So far, she said, she’s managed not to evict anyone during the pandemic. 

“We’d rather work something out than having nothing at all,” Stobi said. ”Landlords don’t want to evict tenants.” 

Some tenants are using their credit cards to cover their rent. Few landlords or property managers accept plastic, so you’d have to find a third-party processor, such as Plastiq, Paypal or RadPad

“Their pitch is that you could pay them with a credit card and then they would mail a check to your landlord or send an electronic funds deposit,” said Ted Rossman, an analyst at CreditCards.com. 

But this option should only be used in dire situations. The companies charge a fee (up to 2.85%, Rossman said), and then if you can’t pay the credit card balance off immediately, you’ll be dinged with interest fees. The average rate on a card is currently around 16%. 

Other ways to come up with rent can include borrowing from family and friends or from your retirement plan, Rossman said. 

If an eviction hearing is looking inevitable, try to get a lawyer. One study in New Orleans found that more than 65% of tenants with no legal representation were evicted, compared with fewer than 15% of those who did have a lawyer. 

You can find low-cost or free legal help with an eviction in your state at Lawhelp.org.

Sometimes the paperwork you receive with your hearing date will have the contact information for legal services in your area. If not, you should be able to find your agency online, Erkert said. ”The court may also be able to give people contact information,” she said. 

No matter what — and whether it’s by telephone, over video or in person — try to be present at your hearing, Erkert said. 

“A lot of tenants don’t show up, which means they will get a default judgment against them,” she added. “If they show up, many judges will at least give them extra time to move.” 

Have you applied for a rental assistance program where you live? How did it go? Please email me about your experience at annie.nova@nbcuni.com 

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