Groups Call For Extension Of Utah’s Moratorium On Evictions
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Several groups have called for an extension of Governor Gary Herbert’s executive order that put a moratorium on certain evictions related to not paying rent because of COVID-19, which was set to expire on Friday.
It’s the middle of the month and for struggling tenants relying on the governor’s moratorium, it’s about time to pay up.
“People were already struggling to pay rent before this crisis began,” said Bill Tibbitts, associate director at Crossroads Urban Center, which is one of more than 20 groups that signed a letter asking the governor to extend his moratorium order on evictions two more months until July 15.
“We don’t want to see kids living in cars with their parents while their parents try to figure out how to try and get into a new place,” said Tibbitts, pointing out that two homeless shelters aren’t taking any new people because of the virus. “From a state budget perspective, it makes a lot more sense to help people stay in an apartment than to put them up in a motel.”
The executive order that began April 1 and ends May 15 is not rent forgiveness but gave extra time to those who needed it most. Tenants who qualified are those who were up to date on rent payments as of March 31 and who have either:
- Lost wages or their job because of the coronavirus
- Received an order from the health department to self-isolate or quarantine
- Or tested positive for the virus
“I don’t think it’s going to be a tidal wave of (eviction) cases coming up,” said Jeremy Shorts, an attorney at Utah Eviction Law. He also works with the Utah Apartment Association, which voluntarily created a deferral program for tenants during the pandemic.
“There was a gap there that was a problem,” Shorts said, noting that the 45-day executive order was sufficient to bridge the gap between the immediate effects of the pandemic and the CARES Act passed by congress to offer financial relief. In addition to federal funds to those who qualify, the federal CARES Act provides a 120-day moratorium for tenants living in certain types of housing.
“I think the governor’s order served its purpose,” he said. “It caused everybody to kind of take a deep breath, not take a knee jerk reaction, and give time for these federal funds to come in.”
Shorts also stressed the vast majority of rent money doesn’t go into the landlord’s pocket.
“This isn’t just a tenant problem. It’s also a landlord problem,” he said. “They don’t want a vacancy. They lose rent when that happens.”
Shorts also pointed to the National Multifamily Housing Council which found 80.2% of apartment households made a full or partial rent payment by May 6, based on a survey of 11.4 million units of professionally managed apartment units across the country. NMHC said it was a 1.5-percentage point decrease compared to this time last year and an increase from the 78% that said they had paid by April 6 of this year.
“We know that there are a lot of good landlords that are working with tenants in good faith,” Tibbitts said.
He was also happy to see the state’s announcement this week of a new rental assistance program for those people hurt by the coronavirus who do not qualify for unemployment insurance. But Tibbitts said the state needs to give more time to allow this new program to take effect and help those it’s intended to help.
“If this new state program to help people stay in place is going to work we need a few weeks to get it up and running because if we don’t, the default is people are out in days,” he said. “It would be a shame if the program didn’t work the way they wanted it to because they didn’t have enough time.”
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