HOUSTON – Heather Hartman is just one of many Houston-area residents facing eviction due to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, she worked at a grocery store.
“It’s been hard trying to manage,” Hartman said. “I was working 38+ hours. When COVID hit, I was working 15 hours weekly. It’s hard to survive especially with all the kids.”
The mother of four was granted unemployment, but now that’s only $230 a month since the additional $600 as part of the CARES Act has been dropped from her benefits.
“Paying bills, paying rent is where it really hurt me. Being able to provide a roof over my kids and grandkids (head). Gas, lights, water, my car payment," she said.
Keeping up with all her bills has proven to be all too much, and now she is behind two months on her rent and faces eviction if she does not come up with the $2,700 she owes.
“It’s been very stressful. Figuring out what I’m going to do to continue putting a roof over my kids' head. I’m out looking for other places to live, I’m out at apartment complexes because I don’t make three times the rent”
Relief for those facing eviction
There is help on the horizon for those like Hartman who are facing eviction.
In early September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a nationwide ban on evictions, in an effort to stop the spread of the Coronavirus. And just last week, the Texas Supreme Court issued an emergency order also giving more help to tenants facing evictions. Below is a breakdown of the orders, as well as important resources for those facing eviction.
A breakdown of the CDC Order
If you meet the following qualifications, you can sign the CDC declaration for protection from eviction for non-payment of rent:
- Have used best efforts to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing
- Expect 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), was not required to report any income in 2019 to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, or received an Economic Impact Payment (stimulus check) pursuant to Section 2201 of the CARES Act
- Unable to pay full rent or make a full housing payment due to substantial loss of household income, loss of compensable hours of work or wages, lay-offs, or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses
- 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
- If evicted would likely become homeless, need to move into a homeless shelter, or need to move into a new residence shared by other people who live in close quarters because of no other available housing options
- Must still pay rent or make a housing payment, and comply with other obligations that I may have under my tenancy, lease agreement, or similar contract. Understand that fees, penalties, or interest for not paying rent or making a housing payment on time as required by my tenancy, lease agreement, or similar contract may still be charged or collected
- Understand that at the end of this temporary halt on evictions on December 31, 2020, my housing provider may require payment in full for all payments not made prior to and during the temporary halt and failure to pay may make me subject to eviction pursuant to state and local laws
Next steps if you qualify for the declaration
Dana Karni is the managing attorney with Lone Star Legal Aid. She and a coalition of lawyers and law students from Lone Star Legal Aid, Houston Volunteer Lawyers, and the three local law school clinics, are working with tenants to help keep a roof over their heads.
She said she wants to make sure tenants know their rights while facing eviction right now, especially when it comes to dealing with their landlords.
“Under the CDC order, any tenant that qualifies for those protections, and can sign that declarative statement in a truthful way, just needs to sign a statement and hand a copy of it to their landlord. That’s all. The moment that the tenant gets a copy of that order, the signed declaration to their landlord, they’re protected under the CDC,” says Karni.
Karni stresses that tenants know that the CDC order is not an opt-in program for landlords.
“The CDC order is not a program that landlords get to decide whether they are going to participate in or not. The CDC order is a federal order coming out of a federal agency that everyone can sign that document in a truthful manner, binds their landlord to comply with the CDC order,” says Karni.
The Texas Supreme Court also issued an emergency order which states that tenants need to turn in copies of the CDC Declaration to the court where the eviction notice was filed. According to Karni, is a crucial step in making sure the eviction is put on hold.
“Things get complicated when tenants say I gave it to my landlord and my landlord says they are not part of that program.”
Karni continues, “The Texas Supreme Court also delivers a message saying, yes, tenants do have the right to complete the CDC declarative statement and turn a copy of that statement over to their landlords. However, if a tenant wants their eviction case to be halted…to be abated, then they must file copy of that declarative statement with the court.”
Free help with your eviction case
Karni says only a small percentage of tenants show up to court with an attorney even though there is free legal assistance out there for them. One of the ways tenants can get help is through Lone Star Legal Aid and the Eviction Defense Coalition. The Coalition is made up of lawyers from Lone Star Legal Aid, Houston Volunteer Lawyers, and the three local law school clinics.