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The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act the president signed into law March 27 activated a 120-day ban on evictions for people who cannot afford to pay rent during the pandemic. 

The relief, however, doesn't apply to everyone, just those living in government subsidized housing or landlords with rental properties with federally-backed mortgages. 

That means everyone else in Louisiana should make every effort to pay their rent because when the statewide eviction bans lift sometime at the end of April, a lot of renters will be vulnerable to evictions and/or exorbitant late fees for nonpayment. 

"Basically your landlord cannot currently evict you, but as soon as the stays are lifted, they can," said Amanda Golob, managing attorney with Southeast Louisiana Legal Services. "Landlords cannot force tenants to leave because they cannot file a court petition to evict right now."

Fair housing advocates say Congress should go a step further as lawmakers mull over possibly drafting another stimulus relief package related to the coronavirus pandemic. They say unless it includes stipulations that actually press the pause button on everyone's obligations to pay monthly rents and mortgages as the nation struggles to rebound from the job losses the virus has caused, the state's homeless population will skyrocket by the summer. 

"We need Congress to look at things like rent and mortgage forgiveness," said Cashauna Hill, executive director of the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center. "Or some kind of significant investment in providing housing assistance, like cash, to help people catch up on housing costs once the moratorium ends." 

And with so many people out of work as businesses comply with stay-at-home orders designed to mitigate the spread of the virus, Hill points out the one-time stimulus checks from the federal government won't be enough since people have recurring expenses every month.

And those in the hospitality industry won't likely return to work until summer, one of the slowest times of the year for the industry.  

Evictions are currently banned throughout the state until at least April 30 thanks to the governor extending his stay-at-home order.

At this time, Golob said landlords are allowed to issue Notice to Vacant (or eviction notes) to their tenants. That doesn't have to come from the courts and is just a written notice informing a tenant of an alleged violation and how many days the landlord is giving them to vacate, which must be a minimum of five days, she said.

After that notice period, landlords would usually file for an eviction order from the court, which they cannot do right now. 

"We expect to see, and already have seen, an uptick in illegal evictions, landlords changing locks, removing tenant possessions without authority of law, cutting utilities, harassing tenants, etc.," Golod said. "These are illegal and if a landlord is doing these things a tenant should call (us) and/or depending on the situation the police."

The CARES Act prevents landlords from evicting tenants and/or charging them late fees for non-payment until July 25. However, that federal moratorium only applies to:

  • Tenants with Section 8 vouchers.
  • Tenants with housing vouchers through the U.S. Department of Agricultural Rural Development.
  • Tenants who live in a HUD-subsidized property like Section 8 or public housing.
  • Tenants who live in a Low Income Housing Tax Credit property.
  • Tenants whose landlords have a mortgage backed by the federal government or a mortgage owned by Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac.

For the renters included in the stipulations of the CARES Act, landlords also can't issue any notices to vacate until after the 120-day period. And after that, they must give a 30-day notice. 

Hill says it is safe for a lot of renters to assume their landlord has a federally backed mortgage on their rental properties. She also acknowledges it can be difficult for folks to find that out given some of the personal information they would need to have about their landlord to sift through public records. 

"For a lot of landlords, this is really an opportunity for them to be a partner in the fight against the virus by waiving late fees, forgiving rent and offering payment plans to their tenants since the relief applies to them," Hill said. "And tenants shouldn't be afraid to reach out and communicate with their landlords if threatened with eviction."

The Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center has crafted a sample letter that can be downloaded on their website that people can use to ask landlords for relief.

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