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A national eviction moratorium that is underway through the end of the year has apartment housing groups fighting back with lobbying efforts and media placements.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the eviction moratorium order at the beginning of September.

“The industry is fully mobilized to call Congress to enact rental assistance, arguing that an eviction moratorium without rental assistance is reckless and puts both renters and housing providers in serious financial risk and causes a serious housing crisis,” says Kim Duty, National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) senior vice president of public affairs and industry initiatives.

A coalition of housing groups will be placing an ad in Politico next week making that case. NMHC is activating its “grass-tops network” to call individual senators with whom they have relationships.

NMHC is part of a coalition of 12 housing and finance groups that sent a letter Sept. 3 to Congress—as well as to leading White House officials, government task forces, and agency leaders—stating that “it must act to avert a housing crisis.”

In part, the letter reads:

“The Administration’s nationwide federal eviction moratorium, without meaningful rental assistance and continued unemployment assistance, is a recipe for disaster for renters and housing providers alike.

“Renters will accrue debt they will never be able to repay. Housing providers will be unable to meet basic financial obligations, jeopardizing their ability to provide Americans with the housing they need.”

The letter also explains that Congress can prevent a nationwide crisis by:

  • Providing real relief to households in need in the form of direct rental assistance.
  • Extending federal unemployment benefits to help hardworking Americans fulfill their obligations.

Who’s Eligible for the Eviction Moratorium?

For renters to be eligible under the CDC’s moratorium on evictions, individuals must either earn less than $99,000 a year ($198,000 for couples), have received a stimulus check, or have been exempt from paying income tax in 2019.

Those struggling to pay rent will then need to attest in a signed declaration to their landlord that they’ve:

  • Sought rental assistance;
  • That being evicted would require them to double up with others or become homeless; and
  • That they promise to make partial rent payments.

The CDC moratorium does not change local eviction protections currently in place and does not relieve renters of their obligation to pay rent.

One South Carolina apartment operator summarized the moratorium’s ill effects on smaller multifamily operators, in particular, saying, “The stipulations in the CDC’s order can be expressed by sworn statement by renters and then be presented to landlords, declaring that they meet the requirements and are unable to pay rent for the rest of the year. How are these apartment owners going to pay their mortgage and their bills and avoid a foreclosure? Of course customers are supposed to pay what they can, but there is no hard-and-fast requirement as to proving they meet the requirements or what those partial payments must amount to be.

“There are 80-unit properties that right now might have 12 to 15 renters who are in line to be evicted. And if and when those renters—who were served eviction orders between the time the CARES Act protections wore off July 25 and Sept. 4—choose to try to lease at another property, what’s stopping them from moving in, waiting a week or so, and then presenting that same sworn statement that they are unable to pay full rent at their new apartment home?

“Furthermore, when these residents eventually move out by choice or just slightly ahead of the Jan. 1 deadline and impending eviction, these potentially financially constrained renters can then apply at another property and their available records will not reflect their recent failure to pay rent because apartment owners haven’t filed evictions or sent the account to the collection agency.”

‘Do This, Or Else’

Said one Atlanta-based operator, “Running apartment management these days has completely changed, due to government restrictions based on COVID-19. These eviction moratorium rulings are basically throwing out things like contract law and two-sided agreement, and instead they are governing unilaterally, ‘Do this, or else.’

“We’ve been flexible with our residents and are doing everything we can to keep them whole. We are trying to work out rent payment plans and even helping them to get a job.

“We’ve been flexible. Our people understand their concerns. We operate 30,000 apartment homes. The possibility of evictions for us is not some huge deal like a tsunami, that some are calling it. We’ve had maybe 30 people who we would consider for evictions total in our 35 Florida communities. If the residents aren’t willing to communicate with us and work with us, it’s hard for us to help them.”