From today, Friday, September 4th until the 31st of December, the US government has ordered an expanded “eviction moratorium” which has the aim of preventing tenants from being evicted due to financial hardship cause by the coronavirus pandemic.

The order has been introduced by the federal government as a number of US states have continued to evict tenants in arrears with rent payments. It is said that as many as 40 million people across America face eviction due to their inability to pay rent.

The 2008 foreclosure crisis in the US saw 10m families lose their homes, while now millions more face homelessness. Eviction in the US lands disproportionately across the demographic, falling overwhelmingly on Black women and people of colour, deepening racial tensions.

The legal protections afforded tenants under this eviction moratorium are qualified by both parties meeting certain specific requirements: Qualifying tenants must meet these five (summarised) stipulations to be eligible:

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  1. Tenants must use their “best efforts” to first obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing subject to the same or better protection at state or federal level.
  2. They expect to make less than $99,000 in income as an individual or $198,000 for a married couple when filing a joint tax return in the 2020 calendar year.
  3. They are unable to pay the full amount of rent due to loss of income, or because they were laid off or had to pay “extraordinary” medical expenses.
  4. They are using their “best efforts” to continue making at least partial rent payments as close to the full amount as possible, taking into account other non discretionary expenses.
  5. Eviction would “likely” make them either homeless or force them to move into a shared living situation, where they could get sick or spread the virus to others.

These requirements being subjective would if necessary be decided on by a housing court judge.

Those tenants in default of their rental agreement are required to sign a declaration outlining these five qualifications. They have to present this to their landlord, where upon the landlord would then not be legally allowed to evict the tenant, failing which the US federal government could impose criminal penalties on the landlord.

So, as long as renters are making partial payments to the best of their ability, US landlords can’t legally evict tenants before Dec. 31 for financial reasons. But landlords could still evict a tenant for other reasons such as physical damage to the property or criminal and anti-social behaviour.

Landlords violating the order would be subject to heavy fines and a one-year prison sentence, a penalty which would escalated much further should a forced eviction against these rules result in the death of a tenant.

If the landlord complies with the order they can still collect some rent as outlined under fourth provision for those tenants pledging to make best efforts to pay at least partially the amount of rent. Also, the order does not prevent landlords from charging fees or accruing interest, if those are included under the tenancy agreement.

The order is expected to face legal challenges from US landlords. Landlord associations have sued in multiple states to halt previous Coronavirus eviction moratoriums, claiming they are unconstitutional. If this happens again, the courts will have the final decision.

Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions to Prevent the Further Spread of COVID-19

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