Travis County judge doesn’t expect case backlog over eviction confusion

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Travis County Justice of the Peace Nicholas Chu said he doesn’t expect his court to be bogged down by invalid eviction cases, despite confusion among landlords and tenants.

Judge Chu signed an order this week requiring evicting landlords to prove their property doesn’t fall under federal guidelines created by the CARES Act.

KXAN’s investigative team had started asking questions about the orders passed by Congress last month, which include a 120-day moratorium on evictions and the elimination of late fees for properties where the federal government has a financial interest.

These rules affect thousands of local renters and landlords and are different from coronavirus eviction protections ordered by Travis County and the Austin City Council.

Even so, KXAN has heard from tenants who say they are being threatened with eviction and late fees.

One local woman who lives in HUD housing tells us her complex has “continuously placed notices that rent is due, late fees will be attached and we are not protected.”

Properties like Section 8 housing and those with federally backed mortgages fall under the CARES Act rules.

Judge Chu said his jurisdiction, Travis County Prescinct 5, had 15 eviction cases filed from March 17 and April 15.

He said those landlords who filed for eviction after the CARES Act was signed into law on March 27 will have to prove under the penalty of perjury that their properties don’t apply.

Since the CARES Act went into effect almost a month ago, KXAN’s asked Judge Chu why he issued the order this week.

He said the courts had to figure out the best way for landlords to prove their eviction is valid.

“It’s good to get a proper plan in place and spread one coherent message,” he said. “And that’s what this is.”

Judge Chu believes the order gives landlords plenty of time to understand the guidelines, because the Travis County order prohibits landlords from filing a notice to vacate until May 8.

“As the various tenants associations and housing and apartment associations spread the word — and also doing stores like this — I think landlords will get the message.”

It’s unclear how many landlords are getting the message now.

This week KXAN asked the management group of one local property, Trillium Terrace, whether it knew the rules.

The property’s mortgage is listed as being backed by Fannie Mae.

A spokesperson at Magnolia Property Company said: “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.” 

Many rental properties don’t fall under the CARES Act. You can check to verify this 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.

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.

But the order doesn’t provide protections as long as the CARES Act, which could protect eligible tenants from being evicted and from late fees until August 24.

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