In addition to the staggering public health effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the economic impacts have left many people across the US suddenly facing a significant or total loss of income. This has led to a severe degree of potential housing insecurity for both renters and homeowners, many of whom are worried about their ability to continue paying their rent or mortgage. In response, the federal government has enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provides many individuals with direct cash assistance as well as expanded access to unemployment benefits. The CARES Act and its successor, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (CAA), along with a variety of state and local government programs and policies, also contains protections for renters and homeowners by prohibiting many evictions and requiring assistance for qualifying mortgages.
Eviction Bans and Emergency Protections for Renters
On September 1, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued an order establishing a nationwide eviction moratorium for eligible renters. Individuals earning $99,000 or less or couples earning $198,000 or less may qualify. A tenant may also qualify if they received a 2020 stimulus check. The CDC order applies to evictions in public housing as well. Tenants must present their landlord with a CDC declaration form to be eligible. However, the order does not relieve a tenant’s obligation to pay rent once the moratorium expires, including rent that has come due during the moratorium. The order was most recently extended through June 30, 2021. In early May 2021, a federal judge in the District of Columbia ruled that the CDC lacked the authority to issue this moratorium, but the federal government is appealing this decision.
Additional protections may be available to tenants in properties backed by mortgages from the Federal Housing Administration, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac), the US Department of Agriculture, or the Veterans Administration (VA). If the property contains five or more units, and the landlord has received a forbearance on the mortgage, they cannot evict a tenant for unpaid rent or late fees, or charge late fees or penalties to a tenant who has not paid rent. Once the forbearance period ends, the landlord must provide a 30-day notice when asking the tenant to vacate. For FHA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac mortgages, the landlord must inform the tenant about these protections and cannot require them to repay all of their back rent in a lump sum.
Under the CARES Act, people renting from a property owner with a federally backed mortgage could not be evicted or charged penalties for nonpayment of rent for 120 days between March 27 and July 24, 2020. Once that time had expired, tenants were still entitled to a 30-day notice before a landlord could require them to vacate.
State, city, and county governments across the country have gone further, implementing bans on eviction, and in some cases prohibiting late fees and utility shutoffs based on nonpayment of rent. Depending on the jurisdiction, these policies have taken the form of state legislation, executive orders, and local ordinances. While most of these initiatives require tenants to pay rent eventually, and also tend to require a showing of harm related to the COVID-19 pandemic, they are generally more protective of tenants and easier to figure out than federal options.
Eviction Protections by State
Justia provides regularly updated information and resources on the measures that each state has taken to assist renters during the coronavirus pandemic.
For example, in California, all renters are entitled to a delay of eviction proceedings until June 30, 2021, provided that they can make a showing of injury associated with coronavirus and give notice to their landlords. Similarly, the California Public Utilities Commission barred most electric and natural gas utilities from disconnecting service due to non-payment until April 16, 2021. The City of Los Angeles has implemented an ordinance placing a moratorium on residential evictions, which also gives tenants up to a year to pay back any rent owed during that time period. Examples of harm that can qualify tenants for this kind of relief include income loss due to reduced hours or workplace closure, loss of income due to increased childcare expenses or school closures, coronavirus-related health care expenses due to a tenant’s own illness or that of a family member, and other reasonable expenditures associated with the pandemic.
Some localities have included commercial tenants in eviction suspension laws, while a significant number have not. It is also important to bear in mind that in many areas, landlords can still evict tenants for reasons related to criminal activity on the premises, or because of a threat to the health or safety of other tenants.
Mortgage Assistance and Foreclosure Relief
Under the CARES Act, homeowners with federally backed mortgages were guaranteed a 60-day moratorium on foreclosures starting on March 18, 2020 if they experienced losses due to the coronavirus outbreak. These borrowers also qualify for up to 180 days of forbearance. Property owners with federally backed multi-family mortgages have access to up to 90 days of forbearance, provided that they do not evict any tenants or charge them fees for late rent. These programs were available until December 31, 2020. However, President Joseph Biden has extended the foreclosure moratorium for federally guaranteed mortgages through June 30, 2021. The mortgage payment forbearance enrollment window was also extended until June 30, 2021. Borrowers who entered forbearance on or before June 30, 2020 will receive up to six months of additional mortgage payment forbearance in three-month increments.
State and local governments have also taken action to protect homeowners who may be struggling to make their mortgage payments due to the COVID-19 emergency. For example, a number of major banks have also agreed to provide California borrowers with a 90-day forbearance period, along with a pledge that no negative credit reporting will occur if they fall behind on payments. In Kansas, foreclosures are suspended for the duration of the state of emergency. New York foreclosures have been suspended until May 1, 2021 for homeowners able to declare certain COVID-19 hardships. Qualified New York homeowners may be able to secure mortgage forbearance from state-regulated financial institutions on privately serviced residential mortgages if they faced financial difficulties due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mortgage Assistance and Foreclosure Relief by State
Justia provides regularly updated information and resources on the measures that each state has taken to assist homeowners during the coronavirus pandemic.
Tenants and homeowners facing financial difficulties due to the coronavirus pandemic, particularly those who are not able to access government protections, may also be able to negotiate solutions with their landlords or lenders that will allow them to remain in their housing. For example, tenants may be able to notify their landlords that they will not be able to pay their full rent, and possibly reach an agreement to pay partial rent and make up the balance in future months. Similarly, mortgage loan borrowers may be able to pursue loan modification or other alternatives that allow them to avoid negative credit reporting or foreclosure proceedings.