State officials last week temporarily stopped most evictions to alleviate fears that Texas renters who lose income or fall ill during the COVID-19 pandemic might also lose their homes.
But the moratorium isn’t a free ride, and payments are still due, say local landlords and property managers. That doesn’t mean avenues of help aren’t available. In fact, help for those in financial distress may be just a phone call away.
“The best advice is to contact your landlord or their property manager and have a conversation,” said Jim Bell, owner of Nathan Bell Realtors and a local property manager. “It is important for us to know and record any extenuating circumstances that would affect your payment.”
Proof of circumstances — letters from an employer, doctor or anyone who can verify the situation — may be required, but having that conversation could be enough to prevent court action, Bell said.
“The tenants need to know — and this is on a day-to-day basis, not anything to do with COVID-19 — but they need to be aware of the eviction process and what their rights are. And they need to show up to court and they need to give their side of the story,” said Sally Ruthart, Paris Housing Authority executive director.
Eviction typically begins when a landlord issues notice to a renter of their intent to file. After a brief period of time, eviction paperwork is filed with the court, and the county delivers notice to the renter that they are being sued for possession, Bell said. The parties are then given a court date to settle the dispute.
The Texas Supreme Court on March 19 issued an order halting eviction proceedings statewide until at least April 19, unless there is a threat of physical harm or criminal activity. The order came two days after the Department of Housing and Urban Development suspended foreclosures and evictions through April in response to the economic fallout around COVID-19.
“Since the courthouse is closed, evictions were pretty much shut down in any case,” Bell said. “When the moratorium is lifted, there is no grace period. Lawsuits can be filed immediately and payments are then due along with court costs. Those trying to delay this action could find all these costs and the court action on their record.”
The financial impacts are affecting everyone, Ruthart said, adding that although landlords didn’t go into the business to lose money, they do have heart. Having worked closely with local landlords on Section 8 housing situations, she believes they’ll work with their tenants suffering hardships during the pandemic.
“I don’t think they’re gonna have a lot of problem around here with these landlords,” she said. “Everybody’s going through this one way or the other.”
To help its tenants avoid a housing hardship, the Paris Housing Authority is waiving its 30-day income change requirement for rent adjustment, Ruthart said. The move will affect April rent payments, possibly longer, so tenants can more quickly adjust to financial difficulties during this time.
“We have also waived the late fees for April and possibly more months because our office is actually closed,” Ruthart said, adding the closure is in effect until at least April 6. “We are working, but … we’re not letting anyone in the front door.”
Much of the help landlords will be willing to offer will depend on a renter’s payment history, how much they owe and how much they can pay, Bell said.
“Most of the landlords we represent are being as flexible as they can,” he said. “Note, no one said their loan payments, taxes, insurance or maintenance cost would be forgiven or delayed.”