On Thursday, the U. S. Supreme Court blocked the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent eviction moratorium. As a result, tenants who are behind on their rent could soon be facing off with their landlords to prevent being kicked out of their homes.
As of the first week of July, nearly 6.4 million households were behind on rent. That’s about 15% of all renter households and represents an estimated total back rent of $21.346 billion, according to the National Equity Atlas. That works out to an average of $3,300 per household.
At the height of the pandemic, 19% of all rental households were behind on rent. The original eviction moratorium plus all its extensions have prevented an estimated 2.45 million eviction filings since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Eviction Lab.
What the eviction process is like
At risk renters can take a small bit of comfort from the fact that evictions don’t happen overnight. There is a lengthy legal process that varies depending on the state, and sometimes the county or city, you live in.
While the timeline and certain details will differ by location, the general process looks like this:
For renters facing eviction due to lack of payment, the legal process to remove you from the home begins with a Pay or Quit Notice, more commonly known as an Eviction Notice. You should receive the notice by certified mail, as well as having a copy of the notice placed on the entry to the rental unit in question.
Once you’ve received the notice, you’ll usually have 30 days to either pay the back rent due or vacate the property. If you move out before the landlord files a legal complaint, you could still be sued in civil court for any back rent due. If you do neither, then the landlord can file an eviction complaint with the courts. You’ll be notified of the court date and have the opportunity to present your case as to why the eviction should not proceed.
If the judge rules in favor of the landlord, you’ll be given a number of days to leave the property. If you don’t vacate within the prescribed time period, the landlord can then bring in law enforcement and have you forcibly removed.
Of course, the best option to avoid an eviction is to not reach the point where you’re asked to leave in the first place, although that is much easier said than done. There are steps you can take that can help prevent an eviction or soften the impact it may have on your life.
Steps to prevent an eviction before proceedings begin
1. Don’t ignore the issue
The worst thing you can do is nothing, says Johnny Hanna, co-founder of real estate brokerage Homie. Hoping an eviction won’t happen will do nothing to prevent it.
Instead, talk to your landlord before you fall behind on your rent or as soon as possible after you miss a payment. They may be willing to work with you to establish a payment plan. If you can come to an agreement, you may be able to avoid eviction altogether.
Be sure to document all your efforts to remediate the situation. If you do reach an agreement with your landlord, have it in writing. Also consider where you might be able to move if an agreement can’t be reached and eviction proceedings begin.
2. Apply for Emergency Rental Assistance
The federal government has assigned $46.5 billion to two Emergency Rental Assistance programs designed to provide those affected by the pandemic with the resources to pay for up to 18 months of rent and utilities. Obtaining rental assistance can help you get back on track and avoid an eviction.
Each state, as well as some counties, oversee the application process and distribution of funds. That means, while there are general guidelines that all programs must follow, there are differences in how each program is operated. Look up the rental assistance programs in your state for details on how to apply.
Considering the Supreme Court’s recent decision to block further eviction bans, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program is now one of the few protections families in need have to help them through the economic distress caused by the pandemic.
3. Contact your local tenant rights organization
There are housing assistance programs in each state that can help you figure your rights as a tenant, as well as provide information about assistance programs available in your area.
Steps to follow once eviction proceedings begin
1. Find legal help
Once you are cited to go to court, you’ll need legal help to present your case. Look for an attorney that handles landlord-tenant disputes and is familiar with tenant rights in your area. Most landlords will be represented by a lawyer, says Rebecca Green, product manager at Apartment Guide and Rent.com. Not so with most renters.
“Most tenants come to the case without a lawyer, and this puts them at a disadvantage,” says Green. With eviction moratoriums coming to an end, she notes, there are a number of organizations that have geared up to provide aid, sometimes at minimal or no cost.
Having someone who can explain the process to you, protect your rights as a tenant and help negotiate an agreement with the landlord is important.
2. Start lining up a new place you can move into
If you can’t reach an agreement on a payment plan, don’t qualify for emergency rental assistance or get evicted, you need to be prepared to move. Check if you can qualify for a more affordable rental or subsidized housing, explaining your situation and asking about renter’s assistance. You should also consider family or friends that may be willing to let you move in temporarily until you can get back on your feet.
Finding a new home after an eviction
Once you’ve been evicted, it can be difficult to qualify for a new rental even if you’ve gotten back on your feet financially.
Most landlords will conduct background and credit checks. Many will not be willing to rent to someone with an eviction in their record. An eviction will not automatically appear on your credit report, but if the debt has gone to collections, it will show on the report for up to seven years. Either way, don’t try to hide the fact that you were evicted.
“It’s important to be honest and up-front about the situation from the get-go,” says Hanna. There are actions you can take that can improve your chances of finding a new rental.
If you have a safe place to stay, work on improving your credit score by paying your bills on time. If possible, pay off overdue bills and try to get current on as many payments as possible.
Provide numerous character references. References from current and former employers, friends or colleagues showing that you are a responsible person may help sway some landlords or property managers.
Bringing in a co-signer with a good credit history can be helpful. If possible, offer a larger security deposit, or to pay more than the first and last month in advance.
Some smaller landlords may not conduct background or credit checks. Just be aware that this can sometimes be a tactic to avoid making necessary upgrades or follow other rules.
Why is preventing evictions important?
The damage from eviction on individuals and families can last much longer than the time it takes for a legal proceeding to run its course.
Eviction can take a mental toll on the family unit, as having to leave a home behind on short notice or having to be forcibly removed from a property can have a lasting impact, often leading to depression and insecurity.
Those who have been evicted from their homes also run the risk of losing their personal belongings if they have their possessions placed on the sidewalk or outside the home. They may not be able to find comparable housing, instead being forced to move to less safe areas or places with less access to transportation and jobs. Being forced to move to a new school can also be disruptive for children.
Unfortunately, eviction filings are most likely to occur among populations that are already facing affordability and health issues, especially during the current pandemic. Black renters, for example, were more likely than white renters to be out of work due to the pandemic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Though Black households make up just 22% of renters, this group saw 33% of all evictions filed during the pandemic, even with the bans in place, according to research from Eviction Lab.
The same research indicates that those most at risk of eviction also lived in areas with low vaccination rates, making the prospect of losing a home even more daunting. Preventing an eviction can not only help decrease the transmission of the coronavirus but can also prevent a number of other disruptions to family life, according to the Urban Institute Initiative.
Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, in a dissenting opinion to the Court’s decision striking down the CDC’s current eviction moratorium, expressed this concern over a possible wave of COVID infections as eviction proceedings are allowed to begin again.
Every Saturday, Money real estate editor Sam Sharf dives deep into the world of real estate, offering a fresh take on the latest housing news for homeowners, buyers and daydreamers alike.