Proposed Austin ordinance to protect renters amid coronavirus outbreak expected to pass

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin City Council plan to expand protections against eviction, creating a 60-day grace period before eviction due to nonpayment, is expected to pass during its Thursday vote.

The 60-day period begins after rent is officially due, and the ordinance applies only during the ongoing local disaster. Council will vote on the ordinance on March 26, giving temporary relief to people paying rent April 1 and May 1, according to the statement released by council members Greg Casar, Delia Garza, Kathie Tovo and Mayor Steve Adler.

City Council members Ann Kitchen, Natasha Harper-Madison and Sabino Renteria are also expected to support the ordinance. Kitchen has also been added as a co-sponsor of the ordinance.

KXAN has also reached out to Leslie Pool, Paige Ellis, Allison Alter and Jimmy Flannigan and will update this story when they respond.

“One thing we can do is buy people time that they need, so they aren’t worried that their small business isn’t going to get evicted in the month of April, so that people don’t have to worry,” said Casar.

He explained, the proposed 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 order would not have stopped property owners from going ahead and starting eviction proceedings, including the delivery of a “notice to vacate.”

The pause on evictions comes amid the coronavirus pandemic. The virus, which causes COVID-19, has spread across the globe and killed thousands. Efforts to contain the virus and keep people at home has led to a cascade of negative economic impacts. Unemployment claims in Texas have skyrocketed. Without paychecks, many Texans may soon face the possibility of missing rent payments and eviction.

“No one should be kicked out of their home or business during a pandemic,” Casar said in the prepared statement. “During the pandemic, a lot of things have been stopped in their tracks: but, for working families, the bills have not stopped. So, we’re stepping in.” 

When asked what happens if people still can’t pay after the 60-day grace period, Casar said the council will re-evaluate the situation. However, he said, the city government doesn’t have the power to waive rents.

“Maybe the federal government gets its act together and get subsidies to working people very quickly because what we want is not just a corporate bailout, but something that will help working people,” Casar said. “That’s part of why we have been talking very diligently with the city and lobbying the federal government to try to bring dollars.”

He said the hope is the ordinance will give people time to work out a payment plan.

In West Campus near the University of Texas at Austin, many students have moved out of their apartments after the school announced the classes will be help online for the rest of the year.

We spoke with Stefany Alarcon who moved home to San Antonio. She said her apartment is empty now, but rent is still due.

“I would say that money would really help out our family in this kind of situation especially since we don’t know how this is going to last and how things will go,” she said. “For a lot of us, it’s our personal money that we’re having to spend [on rent] out of our savings.”

More than 1,500 people have signed an online petition calling for West Campus apartments to waive rents for April and May.

On March 19, the Texas Supreme Court issued an emergency order to halt any action for eviction until April 19. That order applies to all Texas counties.

Sandy Rollins with the Texas Tenant Union, a nonprofit that educates tenants and advocates for tenant protections, said temporarily suspending evictions is helpful but rent will still be due at some point.

“Tenants are still obligated to pay unless the landlord decides to waive it,” Rollins said. “I haven’t heard of anybody yet just forgiving payments all together.”

Rollins said the orders pausing evictions do not protect against repercussions of a default. For instance, a tenant could miss their rent payment deadline on May 1, which would put them in default. The tenant could be evicted later for violating their contract, she said.

“I think there’s going to be a lot more that’s needed in order to keep the homeless population from exploding,” Rollins said. “For the people that weren’t already homeless, this situation, if it is not handled properly, is going to put a lot more people over that edge and into the streets.”

Jeannie Nelson, executive director of the Austin Tenants Council, which provides education and helps people find decent housing, said her organization has received numerous calls over the past week from tenants concerned about losing wages, being unable to pay rent and getting evicted.

Nelson said tenants should still pay rent if they are able, “and/or should seek rental assistance for help paying rent.”

“While these delays buy renters some time, a landlord will eventually be able to pursue an eviction judgment for nonpayment of rent or other breaches of the lease agreement,” Nelson said.

More information on the Austin Tenants Council is available here, or at 512-474-7006.

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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