As the nation responds to the coronavirus outbreak, moratoriums on evicting renters take hold in cities and counties as means to curb the spread of the novel virus and mitigate the social and financial distress caused by it.
The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) estimates that 43 million households or 109 million people in the U.S. are renters. According to the Eviction Lab, a Princeton-based endeavor led by sociologist Matthew Desmond, evictions occurred at an estimated rate of four every minute in 2016.
Apartment List, an online marketplace for rentals, states that 3.7 million American renters have experienced an eviction. The latter disproportionately befalls households with children, who are twice as likely to face housing insecurity regardless of marital status, Apartment List says.
Displacing renters amid the coronavirus outbreak, which led President Trump to declare a national emergency this week, could intensify the transmission of the disease.
“It would be both wrong and dangerous to kick people out of their homes during this public health emergency,” Laura Curran, county executive of Nassau County in Long Island, New York, said on Twitter.
On Friday, Curran placed a moratorium on evictions.
Also yesterday, the Real Estate Board of New York, REBNY, together with apartment owners representing over 150,000 rental units pledged to suspend eviction warrants for the next 90 day in light of “the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.”
“We will help our residents weather this crisis safely in their homes,” REBNY Chairman William C. Rudin and REBNY President James Whelan stated in an open letter signed by nearly 30 building owners and managers.
“Starting immediately, we are voluntarily pledging that we will not execute any warrant of eviction for the next  days unless it is for criminal or negligent behavior that jeopardizes the life, health or safety of other residents,” the letter reads. “With all the stress, health risk and economic suffering going on now, no one should have to worry about losing their place to live during this crisis.”
No evictions for those who can prove adverse impact by COVID-19
Across the country, in San Francisco, Mayor London Breed issued a city-wide moratorium on evictions on Friday. The executive order, which will initially last for a month, will shield residents from losing their homes due to financial hardship related to business closures, layoffs, working hours cuts or medical expenses incurred because of COVID-19.
“This moratorium will help people stay stable if they lose income because they get sick, a family member gets sick, or their job is impacted by the economic damage the coronavirus is causing,” Breed said in a press release.
Under Breed’s order, tenants struggling to meet their monetary lease obligations because of “a COVID-19 related impact” must notify their landlords and substantiate their inability to pay rent with documentation. After the emergency declaration is lifted, tenants will have up to six months to catch up on any back-due rent.
Rent help rather than eviction halt
Breed’s measure resembles the ban on evictions approved by city lawmakers in San Jose, California, earlier this week. There, rental property owners, who face penalties and fees if they do not comply with the moratorium, protested the measure, San Jose Spotlight reported.
The news outlet cites Yolanda Chavez saying, ““I’m a mom-and-pop landlord who has worked three jobs to pay rent while I attended San Jose State University full-time. I worked hard and I’m still working hard. I have to make my payments, how am I going to make my payments and pay my mortgages?”
Addressing the challenges that landlords could experience because of eviction prohibitions, the NMHC is advocating for federal short-term financial assistance to renters, instead.
In a press release yesterday, the Council made its case by quoting Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program Fellow Jenny Schuetz, who writes, “Short-term financial assistance would help poor families continue paying rent and buying food until the broader economy stabilizes. It would be more effective than a temporary moratorium on evictions (as some jurisdictions have enacted), since landlords also need money to pay their mortgages, property taxes, and utilities.”
Yet, eviction moratoriums, achieved through executive measures, court orders or police declarations, are also in place in Austin, Texas; Boston, Massachusetts; Miami-Dade County in Florida; Montgomery County in Virginia; and Travis County in Texas.
More eviction moratoriums considered
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said on Twitter, “As we work to contain the spread of coronavirus, we must ensure people aren’t being evicted from their homes. I strongly support the proposal for a temporary moratorium and will work with the City Council to get it passed as quickly as possible.”
In Seattle, the largest city in Washington, the state where the most COVID-19 cases have been reported so far, Mayor Jenny Durkan said yesterday that she will issue a ban on evictions. Her announcement followed a meeting with Vice President Mike Pence.
“We cannot let individuals lose their homes or go hungry at this critical time,” she said in a statement. “Over the coming days, we will announce more support from the City for individuals and families and be prepared to connect more individuals with other non-profit and philanthropic resources.”
While cities and counties are considering individual, local actions, four Assembly members in California’s State Legislature penned a letter on Friday to Governor Gavin Newsom and Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye to stop evictions and eviction lawsuits state-wide for a minimum of 45 days.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also called for “an immediate moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, and on utility shut-offs.” The U.S. Senator spoke Thursday in his home state of Vermont.
On federal level, U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) published a joint statement yesterday, urging President Trump to “to issue an immediate, nationwide moratorium on all foreclosures on and evictions” from properties owned or insured by federal agencies or enterprises.
“Foreclosure and eviction moratoriums have previously been implemented in response to a variety of natural disasters including hurricanes, floods, and tornados,” the senators state. “Considering that Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has already proven to be equally or more disruptive, deadly, and widespread, the precedent for weather related natural disasters should inform our decision to restrict foreclosures and evictions in response to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) public health pandemic.”