CDC issues halt on evictions: What does it mean for renters and property owners?

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- The CDC and DHHS issued a temporary halt on residential evictions in an effort to prevent homelessness and protect public safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We've been advocating for this sort of thing for many months since the pandemic started and before the pandemic started. Our point of view is that housing is part of each person's individual basic human rights, a right to shelter. So it was surprising. The link between housing and public health is one that we've been trying to stress with people," said Pamela Atwood, Director of Housing Policy for the North Carolina Housing Coalition.

CDC directs halt to renter evictions through the end of the year to prevent COVID-19 spread
The nonprofit is hosting a special policy call on Thursday to examine the totality of the order.

"It definitely helps in the short-term. If you are someone who didn't know how they were going to pay their rent now or in October, then this definitely helps you to stay housed. But it doesn't solve the problem of being thousands potentially in debt come January without any additional support," said Atwood.

The halt does not provide any monetary relief for tenants, landlords or property managers and does not prevent tenants from accruing late fees.

"This doesn't magically catch you up on your rent, it just means you don't have to pay it until later. And the longer this goes on, the bigger that dollar amount gets," said Dustin Engelken, Government Affairs Director for the Triangle Apartment Association.

Engelken emphasized that landlords and property owners owe their own bills, and sustained non-payment could lead to their own financial issues.

"A lot of our apartment owners are small-business owners. I think there's this caricature of the Monopoly (Man) who has like 100 apartment buildings, but that's not often the case. These are locally-based businesses. They employ folks in our community to work on the sites and to service the residents," said Engelken.

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Both Atwood and Engelken agree that monetary relief would be a more effective way to address this growing issue.

"For whatever reason, we haven't seen movement towards rental assistance and I think that's the answer. We need to be putting the resources of the government at work to keep people current on their bills and to keep them in their home that way instead of a mandate that does nothing to fix the underlying issue," said Engelken.

"Without additional support from either the federal government, state government, or local government, this essentially just pushes the financial problem down the road. The order doesn't stop additional fees or penalties, additional charges being added to whatever rent debt people are accumulating. So they can be potentially be facing a pretty large cliff in January without support somewhere," said Atwood.

The order applies to anybody who expects to earn less than $99,000 (or $198,000 if filed jointly) this year or received an Economic Impact Payment (stimulus check), have lost income or work directly related to COVID-19, have sought government assistance in an effort to make rental payments and have no other place to live outside a shared living setting. It still requires tenants to make partial rental payments if they are able to do so.

In late August, Governor Cooper announced $175 million of funding for utility and rental payment assistance, as federal unemployment benefits expired and families faced mounting difficulties.

Several nonprofit organizations have set up fundraisers to assist tenants with rental and utility payments, since a statewide moratorium on both were lifted. Engelken noted the Triangle Apartment Association is planning on rolling out a relief fund within the next two weeks aimed at raising money for that issue.
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