There’s a New Federal Freeze on Evictions. Here’s How to Claim Protection

Photo to accompany story about the new federal eviction moratorium. Getty Images
A protest against evictions in Reading, PA, on September 1 (Photo by Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)
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Many renters dealing with financial hardship amid the pandemic will not face eviction through the end of 2020, due to a new federal moratorium.

The eviction freeze was issued by the Centers for Disease Control under emergency action authority of the Public Health Service Act. 

The CDC cited rising numbers of coronavirus cases nationwide and the virus’ “historic threat to public health” as necessary cause for taking further action to slow the spread.

“Eviction moratoria facilitate self-isolation by people who become ill or who are at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 due to an underlying medical condition,” the CDC said. “They also allow State and local authorities to more easily implement stay-at-home and social distancing directives to mitigate the community spread of COVID-19.”

Here’s what you need to know.

Who Can Qualify

The moratorium applies to individuals expecting to earn no more than $99,000 or joint filers expecting to earn no more than $198,000 annual income in 2020. This is the same criteria required to receive the $1,200 Economic Impact Payment earlier this year; if you qualified for the stimulus check, you should also qualify under this moratorium.

For renters in states or cities that already have eviction moratoria in place (like New Jersey or Chicago), the CDC says the terms of those moratoria will take precedence over this national order, as long as the protections they provide are “of equal or greater public health protection.” 

You can find more information on state and local eviction moratoria and view protections that may apply in your area via this page from the National Housing Law Project.

Beyond meeting the income requirements, you must demonstrate an inability to pay rent due to “substantial” income loss, layoff, or “extraordinary” medical expenses. In addition, you must attest that eviction would lead to homelessness or a need to move into shared residence with close living quarters and that you have used best efforts to obtain government assistance for rent or housing.

The CDC pointed out in its order the increased infections that may be caused by rising homelessness, due to the difficulty of social distancing and other preventative measures in large shelters or among unsheltered people. This may become especially prevalent as the seasonal flu approaches, and colder weather forces more homeless people into indoor shelters.

Pro Tip

An eviction moratorium will prevent you from losing shelter, but you must still pay rent. Your landlord will still expect you to meet your lease agreement when the moratorium ends, and may charge extra fees, penalties, or interest if you don’t pay.

How To Take Action

In its statement, the CDC included a declaration form for tenants (scroll to the end of the document to see the form). You, along with every person named on your lease, should complete this form or a similarly drafted and executed declaration to certify the above qualifications are true of your situation. 

To invoke the moratorium, the CDC said, you can provide the completed declaration to your landlord or property owner directly. This form acts as sworn testimony under penalty of perjury.

Qualifying under this moratorium does not relieve you from any rent owed or other payment obligations. In fact, signing the declaration indicates you are making best efforts to make timely payments as close to in full as possible. 

If you’re at all able to meet your monthly rent payments, it’s important to continue to do so. While your landlord cannot evict you before the end of 2020, they may still apply additional fees, penalties, or interest as a result of nonpayment.

A Step In The Right Direction

Earlier this year, a federal eviction moratorium under the CARES Act protected tenants in properties secured by federally-backed mortgages. But that legislation only accounted for about one in four rental units, according to data from the Urban Institute, leaving many renters to rely on State and local moratoria. 

The CARES Act moratorium expired on July 24, following the expiration of many protections put in place by states and local governments. That same week, the $600 per week in extended federal unemployment benefits ran out. As a result, many of those hardest hit by the pandemic, who had relied on the extended benefits to meet their necessary expenses like rent, faced a looming eviction cliff.

After the moratorium expiration, landlords were still required to issue a 30-day notice before beginning any evictions, but that ended on Aug. 24.

This order is more sweeping than the moratorium under the CARES Act — it applies to all renters who qualify, not only those in federally-backed properties — but experts worry that it’s not enough. 

Many unemployed Americans still face lost income and are unable to return to work. Executive actions signed by President Trump in early August, including a new lost wages assistance program providing up to $300 in unemployment benefits, may give some relief, but have been implemented slowly. Meanwhile, there is still no concrete plan for a second stimulus or a benefits extension from Congress. 

“While an eviction moratorium is an essential step, it is a half-measure that extends a financial cliff for renters to fall off of when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed,” National Low Income Housing Coalition President and CEO Diane Yentel said in a statement following Tuesday’s order. “This action delays but does not prevent evictions.”