Phoenix-area evictions dropped with moratorium. Here’s why tenants are urged not to skip rent

Phoenix-area renter evictions plummeted 66% during April, likely due to state and federal restrictions and financial help during the COVID-19 crisis.

The drop in the number of renters losing homes comes as the number of Arizona residents receiving unemployment benefits climbs to 250,000, and at least another 170,000 are trying to get the financial help due to the economic fallout from the pandemic.

But housing advocates are advising renters not to skip rent payments if they can afford them because most of the current eviction protections run out in late July. Renters will owe unpaid rent then, or face possible eviction.

Nearly a third of all U.S. renters didn’t pay their landlords at the beginning of April, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council. That data doesn’t include student or low-income housing.

“Once the protections of the CARES Act and the Governors order are over, unless tenants have made arrangements with the landlord in writing to pay back any rent owed, landlords will be able to evict tenants for unpaid rent,” said Pamela Bridge, director of Advocacy and Litigation at Phoenix-based Community Legal Services.

Arizona eviction help

Approximately 1,611 Valley households were evicted during the first four weeks of April, according to the Maricopa County Justice Courts. That compares with 4,777 in April 2019, and 3,800 last month.

Nearly 30,000 Arizona tenants are asking for help paying their rent from a $5 million state fund launched last month for people hurt by COVID-19. The average aid requested is about $890, according to the Arizona Department of Housing. The money goes directly to landlords.

To receive rent help from the $5 million fund, tenants must:

  • Live in an Arizona rental unit as their primary residence.
  • Have seen a reduction in income due to COVID-19 that when annualized, does not exceed 100% of the area median income adjusted for family size for the county in which they reside.

The renter-aid fund came after Gov. Doug Ducey’s March executive order to delay evictions for people either quarantined or facing economic hardships due to COVID-19.

To avoid eviction under Ducey’s executive order, tenants must contact their landlord and provide information that they are missing rent for one of the following reasons:

  • Required to be quarantined because they have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • Ordered by a licensed medical professional to self-quarantine based on symptoms defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Required to be quarantined because someone in their home has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • Demonstrate a health condition that puts them at risk for coronavirus, according to the CDC.
  • Suffered a substantial loss of income resulting from COVID-19 due to any of these reasons: job loss, reduction in compensation, closure of place of employment or a need to be absent from work to care for a home-bound school-age child.

Community Legal Services has forms to help renters with their requests to avoid eviction.

The eviction moratorium lasts until July 22. Until then, renters can still get eviction judgments against them, but constables or sheriffs aren’t supposed to lock them out of their homes they qualify for the COVID-19 relief. 

Federal help in place, too

“Under the CARES Act, tenants in most federally subsidized housing programs and who are living in homes with federally backed mortgages cannot receive eviction judgments against them right now for nonpayment of rent or receive late charges,” Bridge said.

That includes lower-income renters with federally subsidized housing, including the Section 8 program.

The federal moratorium includes renters in apartment complexes, condominiums or single-family homes that the landlord financed with loans backed by federally owned Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

But all of those renters can receive judgments against them for other types of violations, even if they have a COVID-19 hardship, Bridge said.

The federal eviction protection lasts through July 25. After that, the landlord has to give the tenant protected under CARES Act at least a 30-day notice to vacate, Bridge said.

Landlord help

U.S. landlords with government-backed mortgages can now fall behind on payments without penalty if they suspend evictions related to the coronavirus crisis.

“Renters should not have to worry about being evicted from their home, and property owners should not have to worry about losing their building,” Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mark Calabria said in a statement.

Federally owned Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will give owners of multifamily apartments and rental homes a reprieve on their mortgage payments if they have renters who can’t afford their monthly payments due to the pandemic.

“Property owners across Arizona continue to work hard to keep people in their rental homes, helping renters find options and resources so they don’t fall too far behind,” said Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus, CEO of the Arizona Multihousing Association. “Our fear is that May will look worse financially for many people and many rental communities.

“If we have multiple consecutive months of unpaid rent, evictions will almost surely spike down the line,” she said.

Rent strikes

Renters in other cities have gone on rent strikes during the COVID-19 crisis. A growing number of tenants say they are planning not to pay rent, even if they can afford it, in New York at the beginning of May.

But Community Legal Services, which helps mostly tenants, is telling Arizona renters they need pay in May what they can.

There’s no moratorium on all evictions in Arizona, unlike in some U.S. cities. 

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