Thousands of Texas tenants who can’t pay rent amid the COVID-19 crisis are at risk of eviction as the Texas Supreme Court has failed to extend its 34th emergency order.
This emergency order required judges to put on hold cases where a CDC declaration had been filed, thus allowing tenants to stay housed as they applied for state- or locally-administered federal rental assistance. The Texas Supreme Court will now allow landlords to decide whether they would like to move forward with evicting a tenant, despite the federal moratorium. Landlords who evict tenants who have filed a CDC declaration under the moratorium may be subject to civil and criminal penalties. However, the State of Texas has indicated that courts will not enforce this policy. According to the Texas Justice Court Training Center, the violation is “not a matter that a justice court can or should enforce…” In short, tenants will be on their own.
In essence, the Texas Supreme Court and the state’s leaders are abdicating their powers and moral obligation to protect renters from homelessness. Meanwhile, the $1.3 billion state-run rental assistance program has stumbled. As of less than two weeks ago, fewer than 130 payments had been made. Program administrators, who had aimed to process applications within 14 days, say that 60 days is closer to average. If landlords are able to evict tenants who have applied for rent relief, the program will fail before it has had the chance to succeed.
Renters need time to access assistance while landlords need timely payment. At this point, neither group is getting what they need. Thousands of people are being thrown out of their homes and onto the streets, doubled up in cramped spaces, or living in cars.
Texas Housers is calling on state leaders to extend Supreme Court Emergency Order 34 to ensure that all Texans can remain housed utilizing the CDC’s eviction moratorium on the basis of non-payment of rent. In the absence of a complete moratorium from the federal government, Justices of the Peace should have the ability to play an active role in what happens in their courtrooms and be granted the tools to help keep Texans housed. A “hands off” approach, simply put, evicts more tenants, puts landlords in legal jeopardy, and hampers the $1.3 billion rent relief program.
The Biden administration extended the CDC moratorium until June 30th. As a part of this extension, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) joined the order with enforcement powers: