Arizona renters hurt by COVID-19 and struggling to pay rent shouldn’t have to worry about losing their homes until 2021 due to a new federal action delaying most evictions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is banning evictions starting Sept. 4 . The order is to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus by keeping renters from becoming homeless or from living in unsafe, crowded homes.
The order overrides Arizona’s eviction moratorium set to end Oct. 31, said Pamela Bridge, director of advocacy and litigation at the Arizona nonprofit Community Legal Services.
“We are grateful for the CDC eviction ban,” she said. “It will protect the public and help and stop eviction filings during this pandemic.”
New eviction ban rules
To qualify for the CDC moratorium, tenants must sign a declaration saying they:
Lost income during the pandemic.
Can’t make full rent payments.
Will try to make partial rent payments.
Applied for rental help.
And an eviction would leave them homeless or in cramped, unsafe living conditions.
Under the CDC rules, renters can’t earn more than $99,000 a year to qualify. Couples, who file joint tax returns, can make twice that much and qualify.
To regulate the new moratorium, federal officials say tenants can be fined $100,000 for lying on their declaration forms, and landlords can be fined as much for breaking the ban, Bridge said.
The new federal moratorium is supposed to protect the nation’s 43 million rental households until Dec. 31.
The CDC moratorium covers more renters than the eviction ban under the CARES Act that expired on July 31. It only covered tenants in rentals backed by federal mortgages.
Forms renters can fill out to give landlords will be available on the CDC, Community Legal Services and Maricopa County Justice Courts websites.
Both the Arizona and federal eviction moratoriums still allow landlords to evict for criminal activities, threatening the health or safety of other renters and damaging property.
Federal ban easier for renters?
Arizona’s eviction moratorium, extended in late July by Gov. Doug Ducey until Oct. 31., has more requirements for renters.
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Tenants are required to re-notify and show landlords proof of their hardship, request a payment plan and show they completed an application for rental aid.
Part of the reason Ducey extended the moratorium was to give struggling tenants time to receive rental aid from several programs with almost $100 million in funds. The aid money goes directly to landlords.
Kayla AlHajjah, lost two jobs due to the pandemic and is hoping the new eviction ban will help her family get back into their west Phoenix apartment.
“I am on unemployment because of COVID. I applied for rental aid. I have shown my landlord all the required documents to stay in our home twice,” said the mother of two, who is eight months pregnant. “But on Aug. 31, a constable locked us out of our apartment. We can’t even find a shelter to live in, and all of our stuff is still in the apartment.”
MORE: He lost his job in the pandemic. He tried to get help. Now he’s homeless.
Arizona’s foreclosure moratorium allows for eviction filings but should stop the enforcement of evictions by constables when renters show they’ve submitted the required documentation to their landlords.
AlHajjah has contacted Community Legal, which has a grant from the city of Phoenix to help its residents facing eviction. The group is receiving 100 calls a day from renters facing eviction.
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In late March, the Arizona Department of Housing launched a $5 million eviction prevention fund for tenants struggling to pay rent because of the pandemic.
About $3.1 million of the money has been spent to help almost 1,800 Arizona renters so far.
AlHajjah said she is waiting to hear back about her application for state aid.
In mid-July, Phoenix and Maricopa County launched aid programs with more than $50 million in funds to help keep residents in their homes. Those programs are distributing funds more quickly than the state fund.
The Arizona Housing Department said it has updated its guidelines to get money to struggling renters faster.
“We appreciate the (federal) administration’s focus on protecting those who may be out of work due to the pandemic,” Ducey spokesperson Patrick Ptak said about the CDC eviction ban. “Over $90 million has been made available in assistance for renters and landlords, and we encourage Arizonans to take advantage of these resources.”
“I want to make it unmistakably clear that I’m protecting people from evictions,” said President Donald Trump in a statement about the CDC ban.
The federal order comes as Trump is lagging in national polls and his approval rating on handling the coronavirus pandemic, a key issue for a broad swath of voters, has remained consistently low.
The executive action offers a way for Trump to show attention to the health and economic crises even as the Republican-controlled Senate has been unable to agree on another round of financial aid to American citizens and businesses. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed another $3 trillion aid package on May 15, but that legislation has been a non-starter with the Senate.
Nationally, landlord and housing advocates have been lobbying to get as much as $100 billion in renter aid.
The National Multifamily Housing Council is against the CDC ban, saying that without more funding for landlords and unemployment aid, it won’t provide a long-term situation for renters.
Many landlords, particularly smaller investors with a few rentals, are struggling to make their own utility, insurance and property maintenance payments without collecting rents.
The Arizona Multifamily Association is suing to overturn the state’s eviction moratorium and declined to comment on the CDC ban.
Payments still due
When the eviction ban ends in 2021, tenants will owe landlords all of their missed rent payments.
Housing advocates are encouraging renters to at least make partial payments if that’s all they can afford.
But without more aid, most renters may be unable to catch up. And many landlords may not be able to keep their rentals.
“The moratorium is an important action to protect families during this health and economic crisis,” said Cynthia Zwick, executive director of Wildfire, a nonprofit helping renters get aid. “My concern is that without funding to help families pay their rents, it could have the effect of delaying a crisis that doesn’t need to occur, and that can be prevented.”
She said without funding from congress, renters won’t be able to catch up in 2021 and could become homeless or forced to live in crowded and unsafe housing conditions then.
Reporter Ronald J. Hansen contributed to this article.
Reach our housing reporter at Catherine.Reagor@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8040. Follow her on Twitter @Catherinereagor.
AUTHOR: Catherine Reagor