Nicole Strunk lost her job as a Village Inn server in St. Augustine, Florida, four months ago and said she hasn’t yet received any unemployment benefits — but she has received a string of eviction threats from her landlord.
“I haven’t received a dime of unemployment or anything of pandemic money promised for COVID-19, and we have been struggling especially as my husband who is a contractor had reduced hours,” Strunk, whose rent is $250 a month, told Yahoo Money. “My landlord turned off our water on May 13th and then turned off the electricity on us two separate times.”
Strunk’s unemployment claim is one of more than 50 million filed by Americans amid the coronavirus pandemic and one of 30 million Americans currently at risk of eviction starting August 24 after a federal eviction moratorium for government-backed mortgages expired on July 24.
President Trump repeatedly told reporters this week that he plans to use executive orders to extend the federal eviction moratorium and address other issues including the unemployment crisis as negotiations with Democrats on a new stimulus bill amid the coronavirus pandemic falter.
“I’m one of the lawyers representing the class action [lawsuit] in Florida over the unemployment system that was set up by Deloitte that didn’t do what it was supposed to,” Scott M. Behren, attorney at Behren Law Firm, told Yahoo Money. “One of the big issues is a lot of people haven’t been able to pay their rent due to the unemployment issue going on even though most people were furloughed in March.”
Florida’s moratorium on evictions, already extended three times, will expire on September 1st.
Other states ranging from Texas to Montana also have nuances which make evictions anything but a black and white scenario. For instance in Texas, governor Greg Abbott has ordered evictions to resume unless a local government issues an order, while Missouri hearing each individual eviction case is at the respective court’s discretion.
“The judge calls in mostly to tell you: ‘You’ve lost.’”
Atlanta attorney Aisha J. Thomas, located roughly 400 miles north of Strunk, knows these evictions stories all too well as a volunteer with the Fulton County Housing Court Assistance Center.
“Lots of people think they’ll get excused in court because they don’t have the money, but the judge calls in mostly to tell you: ‘You’ve lost,’” Thomas told Yahoo Money.
Thomas, explained that while most states offer a 30 day cushion window from the time of first notice, that timeframe could shrink to a week in Fulton county once the eviction protections lift.
“Here the landlords have to give a notice to you and if you don’t pay in 5-7 days then they can go file a dispossessory action, where you have seven more days to respond until the landlord can get an automatic writ,” Thomas said, who feared evictions herself as a child.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms extended an eviction moratorium in Georgia’s capital until August 31st, saving 46% of renters at risk of eviction.
“You need to respond with a viable answer in these courts,” Thomas said. “I don’t have money or ‘I have lost my job’ won’t help you.”
‘It really is a whole ecosystem that needs to be addressed’
Whereas Thomas deems Georgia as a “landlord friendly” state, one expert says renters in California have less reason to worry because of time provided.
“There are a lot of protection laws in California especially in places like Los Angeles,” said Jonas Bordo,” CEO of Dwellsey, a home and apartment listing site. “I think you’re looking at least four to six months in the eviction process, if your landlord you might imagine the results of that.”
California Governor Gavin Newsom extended a statewide moratorium on evictions to September 30th. (About 36% of California renters are at risk of eviction versus the 46% for Georgia and 51% for Florida.)
Once the California eviction protections expire, Bordo says, renters would have ample time to figure their situation out due to the “stratification of rentals.”
“The stratification of rentals such as demand for the top 20% of rentals in terms of price has cratered significantly and therefore there’s a low likelihood that they’ll evict someone,” Bordo said. “It will take you months to find someone better to work with while on the bottom 60% of rent there is a lot of demand and therefore more incentive for landlords to evict.”
Bordo argued that a new government solution should take place to address concerns of both renters and landlords.
“It really is a whole ecosystem that needs to be addressed one of the things people don’t know is that in roughly half of the places, rentals have small individual owners “Bordo said. “70% of US rental inventory 1 to 4 unites have a landlord that isn’t a corporation but a middle class individual.”
What should struggling American renters do in upcoming months
As Democrats and Republicans fail to lock in an agreement in the Senate regarding a new economic aid bill, the future of eviction moratoriums on a national level remain unknown. The had implemented a moratorium on properties backed by federal mortgages, but the protections expired last Friday.
US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) along with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) introduced the Protecting Renters from Eviction and Fees Act, which would have extended eviction protections until March 27th, 2021, but the future of the bill remains uncertain as it has only been introduced in the House of Representatives. The bill has yet to be passed.
In the meantime, experts say, American concerned about being evicted should contact local nonprofits and renters associations.
“You want to read the lease and understand your rights and responsibilities,” Bordo said. “Every city and county has a renters association of some sort that can be incredibly different in one city compared to the next.”
Other experts say renters can try to negotiate a “cash for keys” scenario where the landlord can offer financial assistance to the renter in exchange for leaving the property.
“Landlords will give you [often] $1,000 if it means you wipe their hands of the property,” said Thomas.