State and federal rental laws affected by the coronavirus

Written by:
April 13, 2020
Andrew Lichtenstein // Corbis via Getty Images

State and federal rental laws affected by the coronavirus

On Jan. 20, 2020, the first novel coronavirus case was reported in the United States. Since then, the pandemic has turned life upside down for many Americans. Most notably, millions of people are now out of work or working drastically reduced hours, as "stay at home" orders have popped up in almost every state, often cutting all non-essential workers. While these actions help to cut down the number of people exposed to the virus and help to stem the spread, they also leave many wondering how they'll pay rent in the months to come.

According to the National Multifamily Housing Council, 43 million American households are renters. On April 2, CNN reported that first-time claims for unemployment benefits had surged 3000% since the start of March, with 6.6 million workers filing between March 22–28 alone. These statistics show that there is an unprecedented number of Americans who cannot pay their rent come April 1 or May 1.

In the following slides, Stacker takes a look at different state and federal rental laws that have been affected by the coronavirus. Using news and government reports, we're diving into all the different ways governments are offering a helping hand to renters in the months to come, from halting non-payment evictions to reducing rent in certain situations. That being said, it's important to note that as of April 1 there are no state or federal orders that forgive rent for any category of renters. And while not every state has extended emergency orders that have impacted their rental laws, that could easily change in the months to come. As the coronavirus pandemic continues, Stacker is committed to keeping you as up-to-date as possible.

Read on to see how states around the country are temporarily changing their rental laws in light of this unprecedented pandemic.

Related: How the biggest companies in America are impacted by COVID-19

New York: 90-day moratorium on evictions

Dubbed "the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak," New York is currently the state that's been hit the hardest by the pandemic. In response, Gov. Andrew Cuomo placed a 90-day moratorium on evictions throughout the state on March 20. In typical circumstances, a landlord can evict a tenant for non-payment of rent after 14 days, but with the new rule change, landlords cannot begin eviction proceedings with the courts, and New Yorkers cannot legally be removed from their homes, until June 20.

[Pictured: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference on March 30, 2020 at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City, during the coronavirus pandemic.]

California: A halt to the Ellis Act in some cities

In California, the Ellis Act is a state law that allows landlords to evict all tenants from a rental property to "go out of business" and remove said property from the market. On March 25, when Gov. Newsom issued an executive order that allows local governments to impose eviction protections in response to the coronavirus, several cities, including Los Angeles, elected to put a halt to Ellis Act evictions. The halt will remain in effect until two months after the current "local emergency period" ends.

[Pictured: California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks in front of the hospital ship USNS Mercy, that arrived into the Port of Los Angeles on Friday, March 27, 2020, to provide relief for Southland hospitals overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic.]

Washington: Utility payment assistance

As is the case in many states, renters in Washington are typically obligated to pay for the utilities (water, heat, electricity, etc.) used by their unit. However, on March 19, Gov. Inslee authorized the state's Utilities and Transportation Commission to use energy bill assistance funds to assist customers who are out of work, or working a reduced number of hours, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This move helps those who have been directly affected keep the lights on without facing non-payment repercussions from their landlords or the state.

[Pictured: Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee announces measures to help contain the spread of coronavirus at a press conference on March 11, 2020 in Seattle, Washington.]

Texas: A 30-day grace period for owed rent

Texas may have a reputation as a landlord-friendly state, but the government is still extending a helping hand for their renters during the outbreak. On March 19, the Texas Supreme Court halted eviction proceedings statewide until at least April 19, with some cities, like Austin and Dallas, choosing to make the grace period even longer. That being said, landlords in the state are still allowed to post vacate notices and may still file for evictions with local courts.

[Pictured: Building of the Supreme Court of Texas.]

Delaware: A pause on all landlord/tenant court proceedings

On March 16, Delaware's Justice of the Peace Court buildings were closed to the public until April 15. This means that all landlord/tenant proceedings, which include everything from evictions to receivership rulings, will be rescheduled beyond their typical 5- to 14-day periods. That being said, the court has made an exception for "essential services" cases, i.e., those that pose an immediate threat to person or property.


Michigan: A halt to non-payment evictions

On March 20, Michigan's Gov. Whitmer put a temporary halt to non-payment evictions in her state. Typically, landlords can evict tenants for non-payment after giving residents a 7-day notice. With the current executive order, evictions of this type cannot happen until April 17.

Idaho: Waived rent for some residents

While Idaho has no statewide eviction moratorium in place, the capital city of Boise voted on March 22 to waive rent on some 300 units of public housing. The measure also banned evictions in these public housing units. There is no word yet on whether May rent will be due.

Illinois: No police-enforced evictions

According to Illinois rental laws, the only individuals authorized to remove evicted tenants from a property are law enforcement agents. However, on March 20, Gov. Pritzker issued an executive order in response to COVID-19 that prohibited state, county, and local law enforcement agents from enforcing eviction orders. Essentially, this means that evicted tenants can remain in place until further notice.

Maryland: No evictions for residents affected by COVID-19

Some states are pausing all non-payment evictions, regardless of why a tenant cannot pay. In Maryland, however, evictions are only paused for those who can prove that their inability to pay is directly related to COVID-19 (i.e., due to loss of a job or a drastic cut in hours; illness; or the need to care for a school-aged child). This executive order, signed on March 16, will remain in place until the state of emergency is lifted.

Utah: Rent deferment plans

As of April 1, there was no statewide moratorium on evictions in Utah. So in an effort to address the financial concerns of the state's residents on a more-local level, the Utah Apartment Association (UAA) and its partners have created a set of rent deferment plans for April 2020. To take advantage of these plans, Utah dwellers must live in a qualifying property and be able to prove that their inability to pay rent is a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nationwide: Economic devastation payments

On March 27, a $2 trillion stimulus bill was signed into law by President Trump. Part of the plan sends $1,200 checks to most individuals, or $2,400 to married couples, which can be used for anything from paying rent to covering utility bills. Typically, this sort of assistance is only available to Americans who meet the strict criteria established by public housing agencies, but in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the government will temporarily be extending this sort of aid to a much-larger group of citizens.

[Pictured: U.S. President Donald Trump signs H.R. 748, the CARES Act, in the Oval Office of the White House on March 27, 2020 in Washington, D.C.]

New Jersey: Lessees cannot be removed from their current residences

A part of the hard-hit east coast, New Jersey issued an executive order on March 19, stating that tenants and lessees may not be removed from any residential properties until two months after the end of the current public health emergency. Landlords can initiate eviction orders and continue those already in motion. However, residents cannot be made to leave the properties for at least the next 60 days.

Pennsylvania: Courts closed for all security deposit lawsuits

On March 18, the state of Pennsylvania closed its courts for all non-essential functions until at least April 3. As a result, no tenant/landlord cases will be heard, including those related to security deposit lawsuits, evictions, and non-emergency property repairs.

Louisiana: Suspending the termination of utilities

In Louisiana and nearly every other state in the union, a rental lease determines whether the landlord or tenant is responsible for paying the unit's utilities. With both landlords and tenants facing financial difficulties, many renters find themselves stressed about whether or not these essential amenities will remain "on" for the duration of the crisis. For now, renters can let go of that worry, as the state's government announced on March 13 that utilities could not be terminated over a person's ability to pay. Additionally, tenants will not have to pay disconnect and late fees as they make up these bills.

Georgia: City-by-city measures

As the number of coronavirus cases grows in Georgia, residents have increased pressure on the local government to help renters stay in their homes for the duration of the pandemic. As of April 1, there are no statewide measures to help renters, but local governments, like the one in Atlanta, have halted evictions for some time (60 days as of March 17).

[Pictured: Atlanta skyline.]

Wisconsin: Landlords cannot enter occupied properties

When Wisconsin passed their "stay at home" order on March 25, it affected landlord and tenant relations in several ways. Most notably, landlords are not allowed to enter occupied rental properties for any reason other than essential maintenance. Essential maintenance covers everything required to make a unit habitable (such as a broken heater) but does not include cosmetic repairs (like fresh paint).

Hawaii: Drastically reduced rent for public housing tenants

Residents of Hawaii spend a larger portion of their income on rent and mortgages than those of nearly any other state, meaning that this crisis will hit the 50th state particularly hard. As a result, the Public Housing Authority announced on March 30 that they will lower rent for certain tenants and will give utility allowances to others. These efforts and the decision to halt all non-payment evictions will keep more people safe in their homes.

Washington D.C.: No late fees on rent payments

Council members in the nation's capital passed an emergency bill on March 17, that forbade landlords from charging late fees on rent payments that may be delayed due to COVID-19. Additionally, the bill halted all evictions and terminations of utilities due to non-payment.

Nationwide: No evictions for Fannie Mae backed renters

There are an estimated 27,000 multi-family apartment buildings across the country that are backed by Fannie Mae loans. To keep these landlords afloat during these unprecedented times, Fannie Mae has partnered with the Federal Housing Finance Agency to grant forbearance to the borrowers, as long as the borrowers extend the same assistance to their renters. This means that those living in a Fannie Mae backed apartment building and whose landlords cannot pay their mortgages during this time, cannot be evicted for the next three months (ending June 24).

Nationwide: No evictions for Freddie Mac backed renters

In a similar vein, those who live in apartment buildings that are backed by Freddie Mac loans may also be exempt from eviction for three months, as of March 24. If the mortgage holder can not afford to make payments due to COVID-19, they can defer their payments for the next 90 days. In turn, these landlords are not allowed to evict tenants for non-payment over the same time period.

New Hampshire: A complete stop to all non-payment evictions

On March 17, Gov. Sununu issued an emergency order that declared an immediate stop to all non-payment evictions for both renters and homeowners in the state. While there is no stated end date for the eviction halt, the order makes it explicitly clear that tenants are not relieved of their obligation to pay rent for the forthcoming months.

Indiana: Extended public housing deadlines

In Indiana, Gov. Holcomb has responded to the crisis by ordering public housing authorities to extend the deadlines for their applications as of March 19. Creating some wiggle room around these typically strict deadlines will help more lower-income people obtain and retain housing, giving them somewhere to shelter in place as they ride out the storm.

[Pictured: A woman waits in line to pay for a shopping basket full of food as shoppers fill a Kroger grocery store during the COVID-19 national emergency. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb banned in-person dining in all restaurants and shut down all bars in Indiana.]

Connecticut: A pause on eviction hearings

As in almost every other state, Connecticut landlords seeking to evict their tenants legally must first obtain a court order. However, on March 18, the state said it would close its courts to everything but priority cases. This means that while landlords can still file eviction proceedings against tenants for any number of reasons, the cases won't be scheduled or heard until the state of emergency has passed, and courts are fully reopened.

[Pictured: Aerial drone shot of the Downtown and South End neighborhoods of Stamford, Connecticut, with Long Island in the distance.]

Arizona: Rent payment assistance

While there are currently no state or federal acts forgiving rent payments for the coming months, Arizona has set aside $5 million in funding to help citizens who are struggling to pay their rent due to COVID-19. While the tenants alone are typically on the hook for the monthly payments, the Rental Eviction Prevention Assistance Program will dole money out to families and individuals who meet certain qualifications and can prove that they've lost income due to the pandemic.

Nationwide: 120-day eviction moratorium for federally-subsidized housing

On March 27, President Trump signed the CARES Act, which, in part, placed a 120-day moratorium on evictions from all federally-subsidized housing. After the 120-day period ends, landlords must give tenants an additional 30 days of notice before evicting them for non-payment, but they may not tack on any late fees, charges, or penalties.

Related: Companies changing their businesses to combat COVID-19

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