CDC eviction moratorium expected to help thousands, but also creates challenges for landlords

Updated: Sep. 2, 2020 at 9:37 PM EDT
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ORANGEBURG, S.C. (WIS) - Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control issued a temporary eviction moratorium as a COVID-19 safety measure.

The federal moratorium begins on Sept. 4 and lasts through the end of the year.

It only applies to COVID-19 related evictions (for instance, an inability to pay rent) but does not protect against other causes for eviction.

The announcement lists off several factors that must apply to renters for them to be eligible.

They include:

  1. The individual has used best efforts to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing;
  2. The individual either (i) expects to earn no more than $99,000 in annual income for Calendar Year 2020 (or no more than $198,000 if filing a joint tax return),6 (ii) was not required to report any income in 2019 to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, or (iii) received an Economic Impact Payment (stimulus check) pursuant to Section 2201 of the CARES Act;
  3. The individual is unable to pay the full rent or make a full housing payment due to substantial loss of household income, loss of compensable hours of work or wages, a lay-off, or extraordinary7 out-of-pocket medical expenses;
  4. the individual is using best efforts to make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment as the individual’s circumstances may permit, taking into account other nondiscretionary expenses; and
  5. eviction would likely render the individual homeless— or force the individual to move into and live in close quarters in a new congregate or shared living setting— because the individual has no other available housing options.

The announcement could impact thousands across the state.

In August, the National Low Income Housing Association estimated as many as 628,000 S.C. residents were at risk of eviction as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center Director Sue Berkowitz said the announcement staves off a worse situation, created in part by the ending of the $600 unemployment benefit in late July.

“This is great news for renters who are facing eviction right now, as you know we were very concerned about the tsunami of evictions that were about to start happening,” she said.

The Samaritan House is a homeless shelter in Orangeburg that re-opened on Aug. 31.

Executive Director Henry Miller said the announcement will help those he serves. The organization has a full capacity of 40 people but is currently operating at 20 people to curb the spread of COVID-19.

When WIS arrived on Wednesday, he said two people were already in the shelter with several others in line.

“People are coming out the woodwork,” he said.

“Prior to opening, people were coming and inquiring about when are we going open, what all are we going to offer, what are the services. This is something that’s been needed for a long time back in the community.”

The moratorium does not exempt the renters from paying rent, but they won’t be evicted if they can’t pay. That means landlords might not have a guaranteed rental income each month.

Landlord and S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Frank Knapp said this creates issues.

“Money has to keep on flowing. It doesn’t do any good simply to tell one part of the economy you can no longer expect to get paid. The federal government needs to step up,” he said.

He went on to state:

“They need to pass another stimulus bill that would inject more money into small businesses, all small businesses no matter the size to help them survive, and put more money in the hands of the unemployed, so they can pay the rent. So we can avoid this whole sequence of domino effects.”

The National Multifamily Housing Council also posted a statement on the announcement:

“We are disappointed that the Administration has chosen to enact a federal eviction moratorium without the existence of dedicated, long-term funding for rental and unemployment assistance. An eviction moratorium will ultimately harm the very people it aims to help by making it impossible for housing providers, particularly small owners, to meet their financial obligations and continue to provide shelter to their residents.

Not only does an eviction moratorium not address renters’ real financial needs, a protracted eviction moratorium does nothing to address the financial pressures and obligations of rental property owners. Without mortgage forbearance protections and protections from other property-level financial obligations such as property taxes, insurance payments, and utility service, the stability of the entire rental housing sector is thrown into question.

We agree with Secretary Mnuchin, Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer that policymakers need to come back and negotiate a strong rental assistance program. Furthermore, we believe renter protections are best left to state and local officials who better know their housing markets and can tailor protections to the varied and unique eviction laws and judicial processes across jurisdictions.”

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