The CDC has ordered that a federal eviction moratorium to halt residential evictions extend to the end of March 2021 for tenants who cannot pay their rents due to the pandemic.
However, it’s important that landlords know their rights and how to deal with the moratorium to stay afloat.
As a landlord, you can still file evictions
Just because it is a “moratorium” doesn’t mean that filing evictions is illegal. Legal aid societies will provide copies of affidavits for tenants to sign. They will be asked if they are the tenant and will hand them a form to sign. They will tell the tenant they do not have to vacate their residence or pay rent for multiple months as long as they sign. As soon as the tenant signs the form the court has to stop the eviction.
These affidavits can be challenged in court so it’s important that landlords and property managers document evidence that can be used in court to help their attorneys. Make sure to ask your attorneys questions as to what your rights are in your individual cases.
Should you lease month to month?
It’s suggested that it may be better, considering current circumstances, to have tenants sign short leases rather than standard 1- year rental agreements. This may depend on what state you live in so check with your attorney before you execute an agreement with a tenant. Be aware that the CARES act is still in place and may affect your decision.
You can sue for rent which is not an eviction
The moratorium only concerns kicking your tenant out but does not prevent you from suing them. You can do this in small claims court but restrictions may depend on your city or state. You can take a judgement against your tenant and when they are working again, you can take a wage garnishment or go after their bank accounts.
Clearly communicate with your tenants in a decided way
Be proactive with your tenants. You may want to clearly state in your rental agreement that if the tenant fails to communicate with you, there will be evidence of a non-monetary fault in the lease.
Make sure to determine the best way this communication will be done. For instance, a millennial tenant may prefer to communicate via text message while an older tenant may prefer written or verbal communication.
In court, don’t depend on your phone for evidence
Unless you want your phone taken away from you do not attempt to show a judge text message communication between you and your tenant. Print out evidence and make duplicate copies.
The moratorium only affects tenants not paying their rent
A tenant is only protected from the moratorium if they are unable to pay the landlord what they owe for rent. However, if they breach their rental agreement for other reasons, you can still evict them.
According to the CDC, a tenant must make payments to the best of their ability up to the full amount of the rent if they can. They must show they are making their best effort to do so. You can ask them to show them how they are spending their money or how much is in their bank account if they cannot pay.
The affidavit a tenant signs asks them to assure that they have attempted to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing. All adult and able household members must also sign.
It may make sense to file your eviction case before the tenant signs their affidavit, but make sure to consult your attorney before proceeding.
Do not do evictions by yourself
Consult your attorney and know the rules. There is a $200,000 penalty or fine if you violate the order.
Voter Voice has resources for landlords concerning evictions.