Those hurting financially amid the coronavirus pandemic are protected from eviction thanks to a moratorium issued Sept. 4 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Wendy Glasbrenner, managing attorney at the Gainesville regional office of the Georgia Legal Services Program, said the moratorium is different than the previous CARES Act eviction moratorium that expired six weeks ago and addressed federally backed properties . That moratorium affected tenants in public housing, Section 8 housing and renters in homes with mortgages owned or insured through a federal agency.
This one affects any landlord, if their tenant falls under certain conditions.
"There does seem to be a lot of confusion among landlords about whether it applies to them or not,” Glasbrenner said. “I've heard people say that their landlord said since they were an apartment complex it didn't apply or because they don't get government funding it doesn't apply, but it really applies to all landlords if the tenant falls into the categories in the CDC order."
The people covered under this moratorium must fall under all of these conditions :
• The person must earn less than $99,000 in income as a single tax filer or $198,000 as a joint tax filer
• The person is unable to pay the full rent due to being laid off, loss of income, loss of work hours or "extraordinary" out-of-pocket medical expenses
• The person is making "best efforts" to make timely partial payments and to receive any government assistance for rent or housing
• The person would become homeless if evicted because no other housing options are available
A tenant seeking protection under the order must present a sworn statement, called a declaration, to the landlord or owner of the residential property, and all adults listed on the lease or rental agreement should complete the declaration.
Glasbrenner said there have been roughly 60-75 calls since the moratorium to the Gainesville regional office for Georgia Legal Services.
"I would advise them if they get served with an (eviction) warrant that they should also give (the declaration) to the court," she said.
Hall County Magistrate Court officials said rent will still accrue, but the eviction will be put on hold through Dec. 31, when the eviction moratorium expires. One judge had only seen one declaration as of last week, and some landlords speaking with Magistrate Court judges have not been served with any of these declarations.
Tenants are still required to pay rent and follow the other rules of the lease, and this does not prevent eviction for reasons outside of not paying rent.
The moratorium can also help curb the spread of COVID-19, according to the CDC’s order, by preventing people from congregating with others in settings such as homeless shelters.
As of Tuesday, Sept. 29, there have been 204,598 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., according to the CDC.
The Times contacted multiple apartment groups and property management groups to seek comment, and those calls were not returned.
Frank Norton Jr., the CEO and chairman of The Norton Agency, said they have been leasing apartments and have less vacancy today than they had in January. Only one tenant out of 310 units was in the eviction process, Norton said.
"Most of the tenants that we have encountered or that we have under management have been paying their rent on time and have not had any major issues," Norton said.
He said making rent payments has been more of a struggle for commercial tenants than residential ones.
"It may be affecting more areas around the country that are entertainment and hospitality related, where the heaviest unemployment has been,” Norton said of residents paying rent. “But we still have folks coming in, working for Northeast Georgia Medical Center and Kubota and a number of other industries."
Dan Forsman, president and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Georgia Properties, said he was shocked only four tenants out of roughly 700 are in some level of deferral or forbearance, which is where payments are allowed to be paused or reduced to avoid foreclosure and/or eviction.
"I think most consumers value their credit and are concerned about continuing to pay the major things that affect their credit," Forsman said.
Beth Brown, executive director for Gainesville Housing Authority, said there have not been any declarations filed to the housing authority. Rent for a tenant there is 30% of their adjusted income.
“If somebody loses their job, their rent goes down to zero,” Brown said. “If they don’t have any income, they don’t have any rent. We don’t really have that as an issue in the public housing world.”