On March 31, 2020, the governor of Texas issued an order “relating to statewide continuity of essential services and activities during the COVID-19 disaster—a stay at home order that allows Texas residents to leave their homes only to obtain, conduct, or provide “essential” services and activities through April 30, 2020. It effectively closed all businesses in the state of Texas that don’t provide essential services and can’t operate with their employees working from home. The governor issued a new order on May 12, 2020 renewing the disaster proclamation for all of Texas, and moved to open up more of Texas under Phase II on May 22, 2020. As a result of these coronavirus-related shutdowns, many Texans are finding themselves unable to work—and unable to pay rent.
Many courts and state and local governments throughout the nation are enacting emergency bans on evictions and other tenant protections. On March 19, 2020, the Supreme Court of Texas issued an order stopping eviction proceedings until April 19, 2020. The hold on evictions was in place through May 18, 2020. Currently, unless there is a local order protecting tenants from evictions, courts can issue eviction citations and hold eviction hearings.
In light of the expiration of the Texas eviction ban, Texas renters are well advised to pay their rent if they can or to reach an agreement with the landlord to make up any missed rent payments if they can’t.
In addition to the Texas eviction ban, Texas tenants might be able to take advantage of other resources and assistance programs.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) (the coronavirus stimulus bill recently passed by the federal government) places a 120-day moratorium on evictions of tenants who reside in federally subsidized housing or properties containing federally backed mortgage loans. According to the National Housing Law Project nearly 70 percent of the mortgages held on single-family homes throughout the U.S. are federally backed.
Even though tenants in Texas who are unable to pay their rent might not have to worry about getting evicted in the next few weeks, they will still owe rent and, if they can’t work things out with their landlords, might face eviction as soon as restrictions are lifted.
Fortunately, there are some resources tenants can turn to for rent assistance. A few local governments in Texas have rent assistance programs. For example, Lubbock County, Texas, has a rent assistance program for renters in need (the landlord has to agree to accept the amounts offered by the program in order to receive the payment). RentalAssistance also maintains a comprehensive list of rental assistance programs throughout the state of Texas.
The Office of the Governor of Texas is maintaining a COVID-19 resource website that contains information that could be helpful to Texas landlords and tenants.
TXU Energy is offering assistance for its customers.
Renters might be able to qualify for help from charitable organizations that have rent assistance programs such as the Salvation Army of Texas and the United Ways of Texas. Nolo is also regularly updating a list of resources for renters and landlords on its blog.
TexasLawHelp.org has a page devoted to property law issues during the pandemic. The eviction-specific page has information about local eviction bans in Texas. It also maintains a list of non-legal resources for Texans.
While eviction bans are helpful to tenants during the pandemic, such measures might put landlords who depend upon the rental income in a bind. Fortunately, resources and protections also exist for some landlords during this crisis. Specifically, the CARES Act imposes a 120-day moratorium on foreclosure of federally backed mortgages and prohibits the imposition of penalties, interest, and late fees during that time period.
The CARES Act also provides landlords (property owners) with federally backed mortgage loans who are adversely affected by the pandemic with mortgage payment relief. Specifically, if they make a request to their mortgage servicer for payment assistance and affirm that they’re experiencing a financial hardship caused, directly or indirectly, by the pandemic, the mortgage servicer is required under the law to offer them a mortgage payment forbearance of up to 180 days (meaning that monthly payments can be reduced or deferred for up to six months). The landlord can also get an extension of the forbearance period for up to an additional 180 days during the pandemic upon request. Mortgage servicers are prohibited from charging fees, penalties, or interest charges beyond what the landlord already owed during the forbearance period.
This relief is not automatic. Landlords (property owners) are required to request assistance from their mortgage servicers and find out what options are available to them. Also, these forbearance measures don’t waive or forgive a landlord’s obligation to make up the delayed mortgage payments, so landlords will have to work with their mortgage servicers to bring their mortgages current once the forbearance ends.
Although the mortgage relief provided by the CARES Act only applies to federally backed mortgages, there are a number of other mortgage servicers providing relief to property owners affected by the COVID-19 crisis. All landlords affected by the pandemic should check with their mortgage servicer to see what relief might be available to them.
Moreover, if the landlord is self-employed or owns a small business or otherwise qualifies, he or she could take advantage of the loans, grants and other financial assistance made available in the CARES Act to make up for lost rental income. Texas landlords should check out the Texas Economic Development page.
As a renter, consider trying to come to an arrangement with your landlord that allows you to remain in your rental and allows your landlord to keep paying the bills. For example, you might work out a temporary rent payment plan, partial payment, or other arrangement that keeps you both from facing serious consequences.