Early in the pandemic, two safety nets emerged to protect Alabama renters. First, Governor Kay Ivey’s March executive order put a moratorium on most residential evictions until June 1. At the same time, federal law called a halt to residential evictions from properties that were federally subsidized or financed with federally-backed mortgages.
While those protections have now expired–first the statewide ban and then the narrower federal protection– the pandemic did not end. In June, when the Alabama moratorium ended, the state saw more than 75,000 new unemployment claims. The following month, the federal subsidy added to unemployment checks also expired, leaving many who were dependent on unemployment compensation with insufficient income to cover basic living expenses.
News outlets speculated that Alabama was headed for an “eviction tsunami.” When the state moratorium expired, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department told AL.com that the department had a backlog of about 425 pending evictions, and were executing 8-10 a day in an effort to catch up.
Alabama Eviction Risk and Activity
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse data, about 20% of Alabama renters hadn’t paid the previous month’s rent as of the first week of June. By the first week of July, that number had climbed to 26%. News outlets reported that there were 70% more Alabama evictions in June of 2020 than there had been in June of 2019.
At the end of July, management consulting company Stout Risius Ross released data suggesting that more than 48% of Alabama renters were at risk of eviction. In hard numbers, that meant 246,000 households were at risk, with an aggregate rent shortfall of more than $200 million. The company projected approximately 166,000 residential evictions in Alabama over the subsequent four months.
Fortunately, help arrived from an unexpected source. On September 4, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) entered an order halting most residential evictions nationwide through the end of the year. Many in Alabama and around the country breathed a sigh of relief. However, the CDC order doesn’t automatically protect renters. Unlike many other recent eviction moratoriums, it requires some affirmative action on the part of the renter. Even if you’re covered by the order and take the necessary steps to protect yourself, the relief is temporary.
What You Need to Know about the CDC Eviction Order
Who is Protected
While the CDC order is described as a means of preventing people from being forced into homelessness or home sharing that would fuel the spread of the virus, it does not apply to all residential evictions. The order only provides protection for those facing eviction due to non-payment of rent. While that is clearly the most common concern at this time, the order leaves the door open for landlords to evict tenants for a range of other reasons, including that the landlord simply decided not to renew a lease.
The protection also extends only to renters who expect to earn less than $99,000 in 2020 ($198,000 if filing a joint tax return).
What is Required for Protection
Most of the previous eviction moratoriums around the country have been blanket rules that barred a landlord from initiating or moving forward with eviction proceedings. In contrast, the CDC order requires the renter to submit a declaration to the landlord. That declaration must state, among other things, that the renter has “used best efforts” to obtain any available housing or rent assistance, that he or she is using best efforts to make timely partial payments, and that if evicted the renter would likely be homeless or be required to share housing. The declaration must be signed under penalty of perjury.
A Big Pitfall
While the CDC order provides some breathing room to millions of Americans who might otherwise have faced eviction this fall, the protection is short-lived. Unlike some state moratoriums, the CDC’s eviction ban does not prohibit landlords from charging late fees, penalties, or interest. Those extra charges may continue to pile up during the time the renter is not paying rent or is paying only partial rent.
In addition, the order does not include a grace period or buffer at the end of the year. The order expires on December 31, and landlords are free to demand the full amount due immediately–and to pursue eviction if the outstanding balance isn’t paid. Of course, we hope that unemployment will continue to fall in Alabama and that most renters will be in a better position to resume making their rental payments. However, even if more renters are in a better financial position, that does not necessarily mean they will have the extra funds to catch up past-due balances all at once. Consequently, taking advantage of the CDC’s order in the short-term could simply push back the eviction proceedings.
Steps for Alabama Renters Facing Eviction
If you are behind on your rent in Alabama, the first thing you will want to do is check the required declaration and take any steps necessary for eligibility, including executing and submitting the declaration. Keep in mind that asserting your rights under the CDC order is not a long-term solution.
That means you will also have to plan your next steps carefully. That includes making whatever payment you are able during the moratorium period and keeping close track of the balance remaining, including any fees or interest that may be added. While there are no guarantees, most landlords will be willing to work with you at the end of the moratorium if you have made a good faith effort to make regular payments all along.
It may also be time to assess your larger financial situation and consider your options. If you are involuntarily unemployed or your hours have been cut, you may have to take a hard look at your priorities, determining which bills to pay and which to deprioritize during the crunch. You cannot afford to make the mistake of giving money to whichever bill collector makes the most fuss. If you are stretched too thin because of unsecured debt, it may be time to consider Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
The attorneys at Bond & Botes have been helping people get out of debt for decades. We want to help find the right solution for you and your family. That’s why we offer free, no-obligation consultations. You can schedule yours right now, by calling 877-581-3396 or filling out the contact form on this page.
Kathryn Davis is an attorney at the Bond & Botes Law Offices in Huntsville and Decatur, Alabama. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Auburn University, and a Juris Doctorate from Samford University, Cumberland School of Law. She is passionate about utilizing the bankruptcy process to help clients navigate through what is usually some of the lowest points in their lives. Read her full bio here.