Austin Council approves 60-day grace period for renters in light of COVID-19

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Austin (KXAN) — Austin City Council passed an emergency ordinance which require Austin landlords to create a 60-day grace period, after rent is due, to allow renters to come up with the funds to pay rent or set up a payment plan with their landlords before being evicted. This ordinance applies to organizations and businesses as well.

The sixty-day period begins after rent is officially due, and the ordinance applies only during the ongoing local disaster. This would give temporary relief to people paying rent April 1 and May 1, according to a statement released by Council Member Greg Casar, Council Member Kathie Tovo, Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, and Mayor Steve Adler. Council Member Ann Kitchen has also been added as a co-sponsor.

The executive director of the Austin Tenants Council, Jeannie Nelson told KXAN that they have experienced an influx of calls, hundreds more than usual, in the past week.

“Many of these people that have lost their incomes are folks that work in our service industry, they work in factories, they work in salons and basically they’ve given up their livelihood for our public health and I think we owe it to them to give them this time to get back on their feet,” Nelson said.

This ordinance, if passed, will help align the city’s policies with Travis County’s move to delay eviction hearings until after May 8.

On Thursday, in a statement, the Austin Apartment Association reports, “dialog between impacted residents and property management is already underway in all areas of the region. The Supreme Court of Texas recently issued an order preventing the filing of any eviction cases through April 19.”

Those at the Association said in the statement it supports this order “and has issued forms and guidelines to their members to arrange Payment Plan Agreements and implement Late Fee Waivers with residents who are impacted.”

The Association also said the Supreme Court actions “eliminates the need for a City Council ordinance at this time.”

In talking about this ordinance, many council members expressed concerns to KXAN about the rippling economic impacts of the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“All forecasting shows that we are going to see a lot of families harmed financially by this — again everybody’s going to be affected somehow, so we’re really trying to proactively get ready for what is coming,” said Austin Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza on Wednesday.

Council Member Greg Casar said that the city council will re- evaluate the situation with this ordinance at the end of the 60 day grace period to see if people need even more time to make payments. But Casar made it clear that local government doesn’t have the power to simply erase people’s rent payments.

“That would likely have to be an issue taken up at the state or federal level,” he said Monday.

Casar explained the ordinance would address some issues that remained after Travis County justices of the peace announced a delay on eviction hearings until after May 8.

Casar said that Travis County order would not have stopped property owners from going ahead and starting eviction proceedings, including the delivery of a “notice to vacate.”

Council Member Jimmy Flannigan noted that he has heard from local landlords in addition to renters who are concerned about the economic fallout of COVID-19.

“Even my own landlord — I rent a duplex and my landlord also lives in a duplex around the corner from me — owns a few duplexes in the neighborhood,” Flannigan explained, noting that “not every landlord is a multinational corporation.”

What companies are doing when it comes to payments

One of the largest apartment management companies in the U.S. said it won’t provide any rent relief. Greystar is asking its residents to pay rent if they can. If you cannot afford it, you’re asked to reach out and set up a payment plan.

J.P. Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and other major banks said they’ll waive mortgage payments for 90 days for homeowners in California. Credit unions and other banks are making similar promises. Mayor Pro Tem Garza said she wants homeowners to call their banks and ask for help. Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison made clear she supports the current anti-eviction ordinance but would like to take a closer look at protecting homeowners as well.

Resources

Travis County Justice of the Peace information on eviction hearings:

Information regarding rental assistance resources:

Austin Tenant Council’s information on the eviction process:

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