Times are tough for Americans; the coronavirus pandemic has devastated the U.S. economy and forced tens of millions of people to file for unemployment amid an unprecedented wave of layoffs and furloughs.
In addition to expanding unemployment benefits and doling out “stimulus checks” worth up to $1,200 per person, the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, which passed in late March, also offered extensive forbearance provisions for those with government-backed mortgages.
But what about the ever-increasing number of Americans—particularly millennials—who don’t own their homes and instead opt to rent? While the protections offered to renters aren’t nearly as robust, there are provisions, in the CARES Act or otherwise, meant to help those who are struggling to make rent or at risk of eviction.
What are the federal protections offered to renters?
The CARES Act’s strongest protections are for renters who live in federally subsidized or federally backed housing. In most cases, tenants in these “covered dwellings” are safeguarded from eviction for not paying their rent through July 24, 2020 (or 120 days after the passage of the CARES Act). During this time, landlords are also prohibited from charging late fees and penalties for tenants who don’t pay their rent on time.
Of course, this does not mean that tenants are off the hook for paying rent. The protections merely offer a moratorium on eviction and late fees; renters are still obligated to pay what they owe. And they also only apply to eviction on the grounds of “nonpayment of rent and other charges, and not for other causes for an eviction,” according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—meaning that you can still be evicted for reasons other than not paying your rent.
Check with your landlord
According to the Urban Institute, the CARES Act’s tenant protections cover roughly 12.3 million units of housing—or more than one-fourth of all rental units in the U.S.
Among those covered are renters who directly receive federal assistance from programs such as the Section 8 housing voucher program or the rural housing voucher program. Also protected are those who live in housing subsidized through federal programs, including public housing and Section 8 project-based housing; Section 202 housing for the elderly; Section 811 housing for people with disabilities; rural development multifamily housing programs; and the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program.
Additionally, if a renter’s home or apartment building holds a federally backed mortgage, then they are also covered under the CARES Act’s eviction protections. That includes mortgages backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, as well as those obtained through agencies like the Federal Housing Administration and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
And if a tenant’s landlord is receiving mortgage relief through the CARES Act—such as a forbearance period on a federally backed mortgage—then that renter is also protected from eviction or late fees for the duration of the relief period, according to the CFPB. Given that many tenants may not realize their landlord is receiving such help, the agency encourages them to speak with their landlord or “do further investigation”—such as reaching out to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to find out whether their building is receiving mortgage relief.
Many states have taken matters into their own hands by announcing eviction moratoriums of their own—though these measures vary and are often conditional on a renter being able to prove undue hardship on account of COVID-19.
In New York, for instance, Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently extended a statewide moratorium on evictions by an additional 60 days, to Aug. 20. But the added two-month period only applies to those who are “eligible for unemployment insurance or benefits…or otherwise facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to Cuomo’s executive order.
Other states have taken a more laissez-faire approach toward eviction moratoriums and other tenant protections. The Eviction Lab at Princeton University is keeping tabs on the policies implemented by states across the country via its COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard—with the likes of Texas, Georgia, Missouri, and Louisiana among the lowest-ranked states tracked.