Most of us have heard by now that the COVID 19 package passed by both the Congress and the state legislature contains language in it about delaying evictions for 120 days during the pandemic. The Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Stimulus Act (CARES ACT (HR 748)) passed by voice vote in the House of Representatives Friday, March 27, 2020 and was signed into law later that day.
In the Phoenix metro area, nearly half of the properties are rented and statewide that number is more than one-third. Nearly 3,000 people a week face eviction just in Phoenix alone. Community Legal Services suggests that renters get documentation from medical personnel if they have COVID-19, are quarantined or are in a high-risk group. Also workers should get documentation from the employer if they have lost income due to reduction in force, lay off, closure or need to stay home with children. Make several copies of these documents. Give them to your landlord at the first sign of an eviction or when you first cannot make your rental payment.
The Southern Arizona Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild has a sample “dear landlord” letter for use by tenants who cannot pay rent. Please see the link below for all documents in English and Spanish.https://www.nlg.org/information-for-arizona-renters-during-covid/
The landlord can still go to court and get an eviction judgment (providing the court is open of course). The tenant should go to the hearing if possible and give copies of the documents to the judge. Regardless, so long as you have given the documents to the landlord, the constable or sheriff should not lock you out of your residence. After 120 days, the landlord must give you a new 30-day notice.
The Arizona Mirror reported on 3/30/2020 that $5 million in rental assistance funds will be made available in the Rental Eviction Prevention Assistance Program run by the Arizona Department of Housing. Go to their website to apply. If you don’t have a computer, call the local Community Action Agency.
Other consumer protections in the national bill are for home owners Homeowners can get mortgage forbearance i.e. pay later or prohibition on foreclosure depending on who owns the mortgage. If one of the government entities owns it, the home owner can get 60 days with no foreclosure and 180 days of forbearance. No interest would accrue. Foreclosures on homes with federally backed mortgages are also prohibited for at least 60 days starting March 18.
If a private lender owns the mortgage, the owner has to negotiate with them.Since the people of the U.S. bailed out the banks some 12 years ago, it would be nice for the banks to return the favor by bailing us out by halting all payments including home loans, student loans, credit cards, and all interest. For more information on mortgage relief, go to: https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/guide-coronavirus-mortgage-relief-options/#relief-options
Landlords with federally backed mortgages on their rental properties can also ask to suspend payments for 30 days with a possible 60 days extension. But they cannot evict tenants or charge fees to tenants during that period.
Both the state and the Congressional plans have provisions to delay evictions for small business as well if they cannot make their rental payments. The federal program is Paycheck Protection Program through the Small Business Administration’s 7(a) loan program and AZ will participate in that. The measure increases the amount available from $30 billion to $349 billion. $10 billion will also be available through the disaster loan program. Banks must suspend evictions of small business for 60 days.
We can come out of this crisis better or worse. We know inequality is very high in the U.S. and our economic system and safety net need drastic repair along with infra-structure and democratic institutions. Can we use this disaster to lead us to a more equitable future? The 2008 crash seems to have taught us nothing. Can we please do better now?
Dianne Post is an international human rights attorney with over 40 years experience.