The Covid Eviction Moratorium Is Expiring Soon: What Renters & Landlords Need to Know

By Michele Moore, Contributor

Posted in: 

Millions of Americans are still struggling financially as businesses large and small battle to stay afloat amid repeated pandemic shutdowns and reopenings. The crisis has wreaked financial and emotional chaos on landlords and renters, in particular, for more than a year. Both sides will likely face even more confusion after the CDC’s eviction moratorium ends July 31.

On JustAnswer, lawyers specializing in Eviction Law are already fielding over 1,000 questions a week (more than double the number prior to the pandemic). Questions from both tenants and landlords include how to navigate the eviction moratorium situation, knowing who’s responsible for what, what’s legal, what’s not, and more. JustAnswer expects to see even a bigger spike in queries when the moratorium officially lifts at the end of this month.

According to JustAnswer legal expert Lucy S, “With the eviction moratorium coming to an end, a lot of people may be worrying about how to keep their homes. One of the most important things to keep in mind is that an eviction takes time. If you can pay everything before the trial, in most states, you'll be allowed to stay. But if you can't pay, you still have options”.

Top topics and questions we’re seeing right now on JustAnswer regarding the eviction moratorium are:

1) Moratorium extensions: When the moratorium ends, can I be evicted for owing back rent even if I have a repayment agreement with my landlord?

2) Back rent obligations: When the moratorium ends, will I still owe all my back rent? How quickly can the landlord demand repayment of it?

3) Extra charges: Is a landlord allowed to charge late fees for back rent from the Covid Moratorium? 

4) Eviction rulings: Is there anything I can do to avoid eviction for unpaid rent?

5) Eviction process: After the moratorium ends, what are the specific steps and timing for an eviction process?

6) Financial hardship: Is there a way for me as a landlord to verify a tenant’s declaration of financial hardship? 
 

Q&A with Certified Real Estate Lawyer Lucy S.

Read on as this eviction specialist discusses the most important things you need to know if you're a renter or a landlord as the expiration of the eviction moratorium looms near.

 

Top 3 things you need to know if you're a renter

1. If you're a tenant who owes back rent, what happens if you owe past rent when the Covid Eviction moratorium lifts? 

 You are responsible for the past due rent once the moratorium ends. If you are able to pay, then you should be allowed to stay (as long as there aren’t other lease violations). If you can’t pay, then the landlord may serve you with a notice to pay or quit as soon as the moratorium is lifted. 

2. Can you be evicted immediately? 

Not exactly. The landlord can serve you with a notice to pay or quit immediately. Then, if you’re not able to pay, they will have to file a Complaint for Eviction. Under ordinary circumstances, the entire process takes about a month, depending on where you live. Now, so many landlords will be filing for evictions at the same time, it could take much longer. Some courts still aren't operating at full capacity. You should know that the law protects tenants from landlords who change the locks on them or shut off utilities to force a move-out. You can sue for an emergency order to get back in, and in some states, you can seek penalties against them.

3. Can your landlord immediately increase your rent? 

Yes, it is within your landlord’s right to legally raise your rent. However, there are a few stipulations surrounding rent increases, and they vary by state. Unless otherwise stated in your lease agreement, your landlord cannot raise your rent before your lease expires. So, if you have signed a year-long lease, your landlord is only allowed to increase your rent once that period is up. On the other hand, if you have a month-to-month lease, your landlord is allowed to increase it every month, given that they provide you ample notice (usually 30 days).

If you are wondering how much a landlord can increase your rent, you might not like this answer. In many states, there is no maximum amount. This means that, unless you are in a rent-controlled city or building, your landlord can raise the rent by as much as they want per year or month, depending on your lease duration. Check your local laws to see if there is a set amount or maximum. Most states require your landlord to serve you the rent increase notice in writing. If it is given verbally, look up your specific state’s law to see if that is the legal way to do it.  

Note, though, that many states prohibit a landlord from raising a tenant’s rent in retaliation for the tenant exercising their rights. If you’ve been not paying due to Covid-19 and they raise your rent as a result, you may be able to claim retaliation. Also, if you have complained about habitability conditions to an outside organization, your landlord cannot retaliate by raising your rent. Check with a local attorney to see if you are protected.  

 

The top thing you need to know if you're a landlord

What do landlords need to know about how to proceed with evictions once the moratorium lifts?

The most important thing for landlords to know is that, once the moratorium is lifted, they still have to file for an eviction and go through the courts. Yes, that can take time, but many states have steep penalties for landlords who lock out a residential tenant. In most states, if a landlord changes the locks, the tenant can sue for an order to get back in – which leaves the landlord back at square one.

Final Tip

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that an eviction takes time. Your landlord can't toss you out in the street. They need to serve you with a notice to vacate, then wait, then file a Complaint. Once that's done, they serve you again, and you get time to reply. The court will file a trial date -- and given the backlog, that could be from several weeks to months in some states. You'll have time. If you can pay everything before the trial, in most states, you'll be allowed to stay. But if you can't pay, you still have options.

 

About Lucy S.

Lucy S. is a certified Lawyer specializing in Real Estate Law, Family Law, Employment Law, Consumer Protection Law, Traffic Law, Business Law, and Personal Injury Law questions. To date, Lucy has 30551 satisfied customers who have indicated that they are happy with the answers they received; Lucy has served as a Legal Expert on JustAnswer since 2009.

Do you have other eviction questions that weren’t answered above? Ask a legal question on JustAnswer to get a personalized response from certified Lawyers like Lucy.