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Coronavirus

What Legal Experts Expect As CDC Eviction Moratorium Ends

Outside the eviction courtroom at the Franklin County Municipal Court
Michael Lee
/
WOSU
Outside the eviction courtroom at the Franklin County Municipal Court

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's eviction moratorium ended on Saturday, leaving many who’ve been unable to pay rent during the pandemic facing the possibility of losing their home. Tenant and landlord advocates spoke about what they expect to see now that it’s ended.

The CDC’s moratorium started last September, following the CARES Act moratorium that ended months earlier. They did it mainly to prevent the spread of COVID-19. If people get evicted, they’ll maybe go live with family or friends. Or, they would become homeless and either have a higher risk of spreading the coronavirus while unsheltered or in a crowded shelter.

To combat this, the CDC created the moratorium, which had a broader coverage than the CARES Act, preventing people from getting evicted for nonpayment of rent.

But that’s where it gets a little tricky, and where social worker Chris Kelly from the Legal Aid Society of Columbus said tenants have been confused about.

During the moratorium, landlords could still file to evict tenants that were behind on rent payments. But Kelly said the moratorium gave tenants leverage in agreements with their landlords to at least stay housed.

“If you used the CDC moratorium — if you invoked it — you could still get a judgement against you, your case could still go against you," Kelly said. "But it only stayed the set out, so they couldn’t put you out physically.”

He added that there have been hundreds of cases in the last year where people have invoked the moratorium due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Whether it’s the jobs aren’t available, or folks can’t get childcare to take a job or their kids are at home, a lot of people have been unable to do the basic things," Kelly said. "But that’s an old story.”

And he said because of the moratorium, many people in Columbus were able to stay in their homes because of it.

But now that the moratorium has ended, legal experts are mixed on what they expect to see.

Jyoshu Tsushima, a staff attorney with the housing division of the Legal Aid Society, said he believes they will see a lot more landlords starting to queue their eviction filings, especially now that the tenants don’t have the moratorium to use as leverage. But even so, he said it’s hard to know what the numbers will look like.

“A lot of the tenants that are being evicted right now, they’re going to be losing this protection that we’ve been relying on for about the last year,” Tsushima said.

But Dimitri Hatzifotinos doesn’t think this will be the case. He’s a lawyer with Willis Law Firm and represents many of the landlords who come to eviction court.

Hatzifotinos said he doesn’t expect to see a huge uptick in evictions due to the moratorium ending, mostly because it never prevented landlords from filing them in the first place. He added that statistically there have been 300 to 400 eviction cases per month lower than on average in the last 18 months. He added June, July and August are generally the biggest eviction filing months.

“There will be some properties that decide that they’re going to file some cases, but we’ve seen that in the last three months, people have caught up relatively quickly because of the rental season,” Hatzifotinos said.

However, even in the couple weeks just before the moratorium ended, Tsushima said there were around 500 evictions filed, which he mentioned was probably higher than average. And it usually takes two weeks for an eviction hearing to happen after one is filed.

Now, for tenants facing eviction, the main thing is they can do is apply for funding. Groups like IMPACT Community Action offer rental assistance for those unable to catch up on payments. And the financial assistance available is why those like Hatzifotinos said the moratorium ending will not have a huge impact.

But financial assistance isn’t always perfect, and Tsushima said they’ve had clients that were unable to get those payments in time in accordance with the agreement with their landlords.

That’s why he wished the moratorium was longer, so that tenants could have more time to get back on their feet.

“We’re still in the middle of the pandemic, and especially with these new Delta variants coming out, we’re starting to see a lot of businesses and communities start to scramble again to figure out how they’re going to respond to it,” Tsushima said.