COVID-19 and Evictions
Last updated on 05/24/2021 at 4:56 pm
Because of the coronavirus emergency many people are facing questions like: How can I pay my rent? Will I be evicted? What kind of help is out there for me?
Answers to these questions are likely to change from time to time as government action changes. We will do our best to give you current information and update it when different information is available.
CDC order on evictions
You may have seen in the news that The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an Order to temporarily stop eviction cases if certain criteria apply. This is meant to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
The CDC Order protects an individual that is being evicted for nonpayment of rent if ALL of the following are true:
⦁ That the individual expects an income of no more than $99,000 in 2020($198,000 for joint filers); or expects to earn no more than $99,000 in 2021 ($198,000 for joint filers); or was not required to report any income to the IRS in 2020; or received a Economic Impact Payment (stimulus check) in 2020 or 2021;
⦁ That the individual has sought government assistance to make rental payments;
⦁ That the individual is unable to pay rent because of loss of income or substantial medical bills;
⦁ That the individual will make any payments (i.e. partial payments) that he or she can afford; and
⦁ That the individual will become homeless or be forced to move into a shared living situation (i.e. friends or family) because he or she has no other available housing options.
To be protected under this Order, a tenant must provide a written statement to his or her landlord and to a Court if a case is already filed by the landlord. The CDC has created a form you can use. The CDC form can be found on the CDC website with instructions.
The Order covers the period starting from September 4th, 2020. The Order was set to expire a few times. Most recently, the CDC issued an order that will extend the time for the CDC eviction protections to June 30, 2021.
Rent is still due during this time. Landlords can continue to charge late fees (if permitted by a lease) if rent is not paid on time. If a tenant does not make these payments, a landlord may be able to evict and secure a judgement for unpaid amounts and late fees after the CDC Order expires.
The Order only explicitly protects tenants that are being evicted for nonpayment; it is possible tenants may be evicted for other lease violations or reasons other than nonpayment.
If you have questions about whether this Order applies to your case, apply for help.
I was laid off or lost income due to the coronavirus. Now I don’t have any income and I can’t pay the rent. What can I do?
You can also apply for Unemployment Compensation benefits or other assistance made available by the government or private organizations. [NOTE: Under the CDC Order the tenant must seek government assistance to pay rent.]
Here are some of the major programs to help people (at least for a short while):
⦁ Apply for help through the Mountaineer Rental Assistance Program.
⦁ If you have been fired or laid off, you should apply for Unemployment Compensation immediately. The Unemployment Compensation program has been expanded and improved during the coronavirus emergency. Many more people will be eligible than the traditional program covered. But it may take the State a while to process an application and make a payment to you.
⦁ Small businesses (those with fewer than 500 employees) can get money to cover the costs of keeping employees on their payroll even if the business is shut down. You may want to go back to your former employer to see if you can get back on the payroll under this provision. We don’t know how long this will take, and it will depend on your former employer’s willingness to cooperate with you.
⦁ The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources has several programs available to assist West Virginians that have low-income, reduced income, lost medical insurance (or face high medical costs) or are unable to pay rent/utilities.
⦁ Last, many churches and community organizations (like United Way) have established funds to help tenants pay rent and utilities. You may be able to get help from them. Contact WV 211 for ideas of places to start contacting in your area.
Waiting For This Financial Help, What Should I Tell My Landlord?
Contact your landlord and tell her what’s going on. This is a standard advice we at Legal Aid always give to tenants in a financial pinch: talk to your landlord and explain what your plans are. Landlords are much more likely to cooperate with tenants who are talking to them, than tenants who hiding from them.
This is especially true now during the coronavirus emergency. Everyone knows what’s going on. If you’ve been a good tenant in the past, most landlords are likely to understand and work with you.
Should I make partial payments?
If you’re using the CDC Order to stop an eviction, you’re required to make any rent payments you can afford. This includes partial payments.
The CDC Order does not define an ‘affordable payment,’ but a rule of thumb established by The Department of Housing and Urban Development is 30% of household income. An ‘affordable payment’ may be less than 30% of household income if you have increased expenses or an income that does not allow you to meet your other financial obligations. The Order does not require any payment if a tenant cannot afford to make one.
Even if you’re not protected by the CDC Order, making partial payments (or entering into a payment plan) is often a show of good faith to your landlord. If you and your landlord can work something out, it’s always a good idea to put it in writing and have both sides sign it. Be clear about details like how much is going to be paid; how it’s going to be paid (cash, check money order; in person, by mail, or something else); and when it’s going to be paid. Both landlord and tenant should have a copy after it’s signed. Keep it in a safe place. This will eliminate confusion or argument later about what exactly was agreed.
Can my landlord force me out without going to court? Can he shut off my utilities or change my locks?
No. A landlord cannot breach the peace to forcibly evict a tenant without a court order. A landlord can’t lock out a tenant, disrupt utilities or refuse to make repairs to force out a tenant without going through court.
Can I be evicted for getting sick?
No. Your landlord is not supposed to ask about illnesses or other disabilities. Your landlord can’t treat you differently than anyone else due to an illness. This includes asking whether you have COVID-19, or any other illness of disability. Please note, however, that getting sick is not a defense to eviction.
My landlord sent an e-mail requiring everyone to tell the office if they coughed, ran a fever, or had any other symptoms of COVID-19. Can my landlord do that?
No. A landlord should not ask about a person’s disabilities. You are not required to discuss this information with your landlord. You should, however, abide by all reasonable safety precautions a landlord puts in place related to management and maintenance of your rental property.
Can my landlord call the police and make me leave?
No. Law enforcement cannot force you to leave unless the landlord already has a court order to evict. If your landlord does call the police, tell the officer that you are a tenant and that you have not been evicted through any court order.
Does my landlord need to go to Court even if I haven’t paid rent?
Yes. The WV Attorney General has said that you have a Due Process right to have your case heard by a court to consider your circumstances and defenses before your landlord can evict you from your rental premises.
These ‘Due Process’ protections are in place even if there isn’t a ‘formal’ landlord-tenant relationship. These protections extend to persons that have lived in a place for an extended period (even if there was no commitment to pay rent or any other agreement). Usually such arrangements can be terminated quickly, but not before the person in control of the property seeks a court ordered eviction.
How long will it be before my eviction case is heard?
This will depend upon your local court. It could be as short as a few days or as long as a few weeks.
Some counties may be having hearings remotely– by phone or video. Other counties are holding hearings in person. There may be special rules about entering the courthouse or courtroom (face coverings, amount of people, etc.). If you have any questions about how your hearing will be held or when it will be, call the Magistrate Clerk’s office in your county and ask about scheduling. Read this article to learn more about going to court during COVID-19.