AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new order issued Thursday will push back eviction hearings in Travis County until June 1st.
Landlords can still issue notices to vacate to their tenants beginning May 8th, per the County Judge’s order. It has not yet been extended at this time.
This is a confusing time for tenants and landlords alike, who may be under different orders from their county, the state of Texas and even the federal government.
“It’s pretty shocking to them whenever I cite, here’s the statute, here’s what the moratorium says,” said Stuart Campbell, a housing attorney at Legal Aid of Northwest Texas.
Campbell says he’s working with a number of tenants who are dealing with unlawful evictions.
Last week we reported Travis County Justice of the Peace Nicholas Chu signed an order requiring landlords to prove their properties aren’t under federal eviction guidelines created by the CARES Act.
The legislation passed by Congress last month include a 120-day moratorium on evictions and the elimination of late fees for properties where the federal government has a financial interest.
The CARES Act could protect tenants in eligible properties from eviction until August 24.
You can check to verify whether your property falls under federal eviction protections using a database created by The National Low Income Housing Coalition.
The coalition says the database is not exhaustive and doesn’t include eligible single-family homes or all Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgaged properties.
The Texas Supreme Court has also pushed back eviction hearings statewide until after May 18th.
Texas Law Help has put together a list of local eviction protection orders in Texas.
For example, Austin City Council passed an ordinance March 26 that requires landlords in the city to create a 60-day grace period after rent is due, so renters can come up with money or set up payment plans before being evicted.
Texas receives low grade for renter protections
A group of researchers from Princeton University known as the Eviction Lab gave Texas a low score for COVID-19 eviction protections.
The score of 1.28 out of a possible 5, while low, ranks the state 27th in the country.
The group says it ranks states based on the following:
- Initiation of eviction: whether a state bars landlords from serving tenants with notice to quit and filing an eviction action for nonpayment related to COVID-19 and other reasons.
- Court process: whether a state suspends eviction hearings, stays writs, orders, or judgments of possession, tolls or extends court deadlines, and seals eviction case records.
- Enforcement of eviction order: whether a state bars law enforcement from executing an eviction order, including cases of COVID-19-related hardship, nonpayment, or all non-emergency cases.
- Short-term supports: whether a state extends eviction moratoriums and emergency protections past the state of emergency, provides a grace period to pay rent, bars landlords from reporting tenants to credit bureaus, and halts foreclosures. In addition, the scorecard tracks whether utilities are barred from disconnecting service or are required to reconnect service without a fee, though these measures are not included in states’ final scores because the state is not always the actor.
- Tenancy preservation measures: whether a state bars late fees, extends tenants’ legal representation in housing court, provides for safe and decent housing (through rental assistance or some other measure to provide relief from rental debt), and bars rent raises during and after the pandemic.
You can see how The Eviction Lab ranks other states here.
Campbell tells KXAN weak protections for renters become even more glaring during an economic crisis like the one we’re experiencing now.
He says he’s seeing landlords try and take matters into their own hands, using wrongful lockouts and utility cutoffs.
“We’re going to see landlords getting away with things they wouldn’t have before,” he said.