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If you are a residential tenant or landlord, then you likely want to know more about the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recent national, temporary moratorium on evictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have crafted this blog post to answer some of your questions.
What is the temporary eviction moratorium and when does it start?
For the next four months, from September 4th to December 31st, evictions are not allowed nationally under specific circumstances covered by the CDC’s Order.
Who is covered by the temporary eviction moratorium?
Broadly, the temporary eviction moratorium applies to tenants with residential leases who expect to make less than $99,000 in annual income for the 2020 calendar year (or $198,000 if filing a joint tax return). The moratorium also applies to residential tenants who were not required to report any income to the IRS in 2019 or received a stimulus payment this year under the CARES Act.
But to qualify for the protections of the Order, there are several additional requirements. Residential tenants must provide their landlords with a formal declaration stating that they 1) have used their “best efforts” to get all available government assistance for rent or housing; 2) are unable to make a full payment for one of several reasons; 3) are making their “best efforts” to make timely partial payments under their individual circumstances; and 4) would likely be homeless, have to move into a homeless shelter, or have to move into a shared residence with people living in close quarters because they have no other available housing options.
Here are some exceptions, though:
What is the required Declaration?
It is important to know that the protections of the Order are not automatic. Rather, tenants attempting to use the Order to prevent evictions are required to give their landlords a formal Declaration under penalty of perjury. Each adult listed on the lease agreement is required to execute a Declaration. Making false or misleading statements or omissions in the Declaration could expose tenants to civil fines or even criminal prosecution. You can find the declaration form on the CDC’s website.
Do tenants not have to pay their rent for the next four months?
No, tenants still have an obligation to pay their rent, and the terms of their lease agreements/contracts still generally apply. In fact, tenants need to make their best efforts to make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment as the tenants’ circumstances allow. If tenants do not pay their full rent on time, the Order permits landlords to charge or collect fees, penalties, or interest under the terms of their lease agreements/contract.
If the moratorium is not extended past December 31, 2020, landlords impacted by the Order will be able to pursue evictions for failure to pay rent then. State and local governments are also permitted to enact more rights protective provisions as well, so stay tuned to the actions of Tennessee state and local governments.
What are the penalties for landlords under the Order?
Landlords should realize that the CDC’s Order has teeth. Persons or organizations violating the Order may be subject to large fines and/or jail time.
Is this moratorium lawful?
We anticipate future litigation about this question. The CDC cites the Public Health Service Act as authorization for its action, but we expect to see legal challenges as to whether the CDC exceeded the scope of its authority or violated some provision of the constitution or administrative law.
Do I need an attorney?
You might! We foresee both tenants and landlords needing legal help to navigate the provisions of the CDC’s Order. There are many “terms of art” used in the Order – like “best efforts” – that attorneys may be able to interpret for you or challenge in court. We anticipate the Order being used as a possible sword or shield depending on the facts of the case, and an attorney will be best positioned to guide you through your legal options.
These are just some of the issues where an attorney’s assistance might be vital.
If you are considering hiring a private attorney to help with an issue related to the CDC’s Order, contact us today for a free referral and initial consultation at (865) 522-7501 or online at www.knoxbar.org/lawyerfinder.
If cannot afford a private attorney, please contact your local Legal Aid office. For Knoxville, call Legal Aid of East Tennessee at (865) 637-0484 or visit their website at www.laet.org. Also, the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands is directing tenants to https://www.covid19evictionforms.com/ for help filling out the required Declaration.
This blog post, while designed to be informative, is not a replacement for legal advice. Please consult an attorney about your legal issues related to the temporary eviction moratorium.
If you’re looking for a lawyer and just don’t know where to start, the Knoxville Bar Association’s LRIS is a great place to begin. We match you with a lawyer that suits your needs. Our trusted attorneys provide you with a free consultation so that you can decide if it’s the right fit. Want to learn more? Call us at (865) 522-7501 or visit knoxbar.org/lawyerfinder.
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