A federal eviction moratorium prevents landlords across the United States from evicting tenants, but Grand Forks advocates and landlords worry it's only delaying the inevitable.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared on Sept. 1 that evictions could pose a problem for public health measures designed to prevent the spread of a novel coronavirus, and Robert Redfield, the centers’ director, ordered a halt to residential evictions nationwide. The order went into effect Sept. 4 and lasts through the end of 2020.
But it doesn’t necessarily mean that evictions will stop entirely in the Grand Cities: The CDC order only protects renters who fill out a form swearing they’re unable to pay rent because they’ve lost income, lost work or had to pay “extraordinary” medical expenses. That means landlords can still evict tenants who haven’t declared as much, or tenants who have broken the law or violated other parts of their lease.
And that’s partly why housing advocates in Grand Forks worry that the moratorium doesn’t go far enough to protect people who are on the verge of losing their home. For months, people such as Michelle Rydz, who heads High Plains Fair Housing Center, have warned that a wave of evictions is on its way, and Rydz worries that the moratorium, which expires on Dec. 31, has only further delayed the wave’s arrival on the country’s figurative shores.
“It’s good that it stops the evictions,” she told the Herald, “but it’s not helping people pay, and it’s not getting rid of their responsibilities, right? So they still have to pay at the end, and there’s late fees attached to it....Where are people going to get the money on January first?"
The thinking was similar after a coronavirus aid package President Donald Trump OK'd in the spring. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act -- CARES Act -- sent $1,200 to each American near the outset of the pandemic: That money, Rydz and others worry, merely bought time for renters who've lost work because it kept them afloat for a few months but didn’t diminish their rent or other expenses. That money, in Rydz's estimation, was a better solution because tenants presumably used it to avoid falling behind on their rent.
"With the CDC, there's no money, nothing's being paid," she said. "It's just being delayed."
The moratorium also doesn’t address so-called “soft” evictions, in which a landlord notifies a tenant about their pending eviction a few days before formally starting the process in district court. Many renters treat that as an eviction in and of itself, even though it technically isn’t.
The CDC’s order similarly worries Grand Forks-area landlords, too, according to John Colter, the executive officer of the Greater Grand Forks Apartment Association.
“They’ve very nervous that when this moratorium is lifted ... there could be quite a few eviction issues because people are going to owe at least four months’ rent if they haven’t been paying,” Colter told the Herald. “(If) you’ve got tenants that aren’t paying their rent and you owe a mortgage and you’ve got to keep up repairs, how are you supposed to pay for all these things?"
Many landlords, he claimed, only rent out a handful of units, and mom-and-pop-style operations are often retired people who live in one apartment in a duplex or triplex and rent out the remainder to supplement their pensions.
"And now they're expected to act as a landlord with no income," Colter said. "I don't know about you, but I wouldn't last very long if I didn't have four months worth of income.”
Colter said he wasn’t sure how many Grand Forks-area tenants have filed the proper paperwork with their landlords to take advantage of the CDC moratorium.
About 15,500 people in North Dakota applied for further unemployment insurance two weeks ago, according to the state’s Labor Market Information website. Of those, 803 were in Grand Forks County.
Both figures are considerably lower than their peaks in the second week of May, when about 40,400 people statewide and 3,100 people in the county applied for another weekly round of unemployment insurance.
To take advantage of the federal eviction moratorium, fill out and give the following form to your landlord:
The CDC's declaration is below: