Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared a moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent, some landlords are choosing to move forward with those evictions.
The moratorium, which went into effect in September 2020, has been extended through March. It followed the national eviction moratorium approved by Congress as part of the Coronavirus Air, Relief and Economic Security Act, which expired July 25.
While the CARES Act moratorium stopped courts from processing evictions, the CDC moratorium doesn’t impact courts at all. Instead, it states that individual landlords who violate the provisions of the moratorium may be subject to a fine of up to $100,000 – or $250,000 if the violation results in a death. Organizations that violate the order can be fined up to $200,000 per violation or up to $500,000 if the violation results in a death.
“The CDC, by design with this regulation, tried to make it so it doesn’t impact the courts,” said Coweta Chief Magistrate Jim Stripling. “It’s supposed to change what landlords do.”
The text of the moratorium states that it applies to a landlord, owner or other persons with a right to pursue eviction – not to courts.
And that means that tenants who fill out an affidavit stating they are covered under the moratorium must give that affidavit to their landlords – not the court. Stripling said there have been cases when tenants present the affidavit to the court but haven’t given it to their landlord. He tells them to serve it on their landlord right then and there.
The moratorium only applies to evictions for failure to pay rent. It doesn’t impact evictions for other reasons, such as damage to property or the lease ending, and it doesn’t apply to commercial or industrial evictions.
While some landlords are moving forward with evictions for nonpayment, many are not.
Evictions of all kinds were down month-over-month from the previous year, until January 2021 when there were 36 evictions executed, compared to 32 in January 2020.
“I think what is happening is that landlords are both sympathetic in some sense and expectant that things are going to get better,” Stripling said. “And they’re also a little bit intimidated by the federal felony aspect of it.”
Many larger apartment complexes have federally insured mortgages, which have been under their own moratoriums. Many large complexes “have made policy decisions not to put anybody out,” Stripling said.
The recent COVID-19 relief bill included funds for rent relief, and Gov. Brian Kemp recently announced that the state has received over $552 million in funds through the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs will administer the Georgia Rental Assistance program, and payments will be made directly to landlords and utility providers.
To qualify, households must be qualified for unemployment or have experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs or experienced other financial hardship due to COVID-19, be at risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability and have a household income at or below 80 percent of the Area Median Income.
Recently, Chief Constable J.T. Moore, whose constables oversee the actual removal of possessions from property, put together an affidavit that landlords must sign before the eviction takes place. By signing the affidavit, the landlords state that they are aware of the moratorium and that violations of it can be punished by heavy fines.
“Most landlords are willing to comply with the moratorium,” Moore said. And for many of the “writs of possession” that were scheduled with a CDC affidavit, the tenants ended up moving before the physical eviction had to take place.
Under Georgia’s eviction process, landlords file for a dispossessory action. If a judge rules in the landlord’s favor, a writ of possession is issued, and the eviction – commonly called a “set out,” is scheduled. The eviction is the execution of the writ of possession. The tenant has at least seven days to appeal, so the eviction can’t take place until that appeal period ends.
Moore said they have only been using the landlord affidavit for a short time. The landlords they have interacted with since using the affidavit have all decided to go through with the evictions, he said.
Moore said that the landlord affidavits are being used by some other jurisdictions in the metro-Atlanta area. “Using the affidavit is just one way of making sure there are no issues down the road as to whether or not the landlord or his agent were aware of the CDC moratorium at the time of the execution,” Moore said.
The U.S. Department of Justice didn’t respond to inquiries about how – and if – the department enforces the moratorium.