Thousands of local renters eligible for eviction protections longer than four months

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Thousands of local renters are eligible for eviction protections longer than they thought they had.

The CARES Act passed by Congress last month is known for stimulus checks and small business relief, but the massive coronavirus relief bill also includes a 120-day moratorium on evictions.

Not everyone is eligible, but the moratorium does affect renters who live in apartments or homes that are backed by federal funds.

This includes Section 8 housing and low-income tax properties, but also includes any housing that has a federally-backed mortgage from financial giants like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Landlords under these rules aren’t allowed to issue late fees, and cannot issue a notice to vacate until after the 120 days are up, giving the renter 30 more days before the actual eviction.

Since the CARES Act was signed into law on March 27th, that would give eligible renters until August 24th to pay before being evicted. Nothing in the relief bill absolves tenants of any rent due.

As our investigative team started asking about protections in the legislation, we found it’s not clear whether affected landlords and tenants know about them.

“There’s a lot happening on the local level, there’s a lot happening on the federal level and a complete level of misunderstanding by tenants as well as landlords,” said Jeannie Nelson, Executive Director of the Austin Tenants Council.

On Wednesday Travis County Justice of the Peace Nicholas Chu signed a new order, requiring evicting landlords to prove their properties do not fall under the CARES Act.

The local order says the Travis County Justice Court will require the “filing of a sworn affidavit or unsworn declaration” as proof from the evicting landlord for every case filed after March 27.

Otherwise, “No judgement in an eviction case shall be issued in favor of the plaintiff,” the order says.

Jason Compton is one of the many local renters trying to figure out what rights he has at this time.

He was furloughed from his job last month and told KXAN he worked out a payment plan for April’s rent with his apartment management, telling them he’d pay when he could.

“It was kind of a surprise for me,” he said.

Compton says he received a notice of proposed eviction from Magnolia Property Company this week, reminding him he had 60 days to pay his unpaid rent under the city of Austin’s order, or the company would issue a notice to vacate.

“My kids shouldn’t have to worry about finances, [they] shouldn’t have to worry about us having food on the table,” he said.

A searchable database created by The National Low Income Housing Coalition allows renters and landlords to see if a specific property falls under CARES Act protections.

The data is sourced from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

Hundreds of properties in Austin and thousands in Texas can be found by name or from a map.

NLIHC says the list isn’t exhaustive. For example, it doesn’t include single-family homes that are being rented, and not all Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgages are listed.

“It is possible that your home is covered by the moratorium, but not included in the table or map,” says NLIHC.

By using the database, we learned Compton’s apartment complex, Trillium Terrace Apartment Homes, has a Fannie Mae mortgage.

When we asked Magnolia Property Company if it knew about this, a spokesperson told KXAN, “We are not going to comment on this at this time.  We will get back to you after we’ve done more research on this matter.” 

Said Compton: “Every day that I have the opportunity to work before a due date is going to be beneficial for me. It’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of time to recoup the finances I’ve lost.”

An order by Travis County prohibits evictions until May 8th. Those who don’t live in federally-backed housing still fall under this order.

The Austin City Council also 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.

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