Legislative Watch: Addressing America's Eviction Crisis

COVID-19 cases are on the rise, and citizens can't shelter in place if they're evicted. Legislators in some states are proposing moratoriums on evictions for as long as a year after the end of the health emergency.

The resurgence of COVID-19 cases following the relaxation of shelter-in-place orders has prompted many states to encourage residents to stay at home as much as possible. That won’t be possible if residents are evicted from their housing as the pandemic impacts their financial situation.

It’s an extraordinary dilemma, in which public health risks weigh so heavily that government is compelled to require forbearance from landlords and mortgage holders. While contagion may be held at bay, property owners are not the only ones who will suffer. Property tax revenue will be affected, and those who provide water and sewer service, gas and electricity will also feel the strain. 

Even so, legislators do not want to see more Americans on the street. Here are proposals from recent weeks.

HB5962 creates new rules for eviction that would apply from March 10, 2020 until 60 days after the end of the COVID-19 emergency. It would prevent property owners or landlords from taking steps such as terminating tenancy, demanding that a tenant vacate a property or issuing an order of eviction in the case of “nonessential evictions.” Evictions that fall into this category include those ordered for nonpayment of rent. The bill does not forbid evictions for criminal activity or lease violations that could affect the health and safety of other residents, health-care workers or emergency responders.

H4878, a Massachusetts bill, addresses home security for both renters and homeowners. It forbids evictions based on nonpayment of rent due to lost income or change in economic circumstances for a period beginning with the Governor’s emergency order in March and extending 12 months after the order is rescinded. It would prevent the filing of negative credit reports during this period. In the case of mortgage loans, it requires creditors to grant forbearance for 180 days at the mortgagor’s request, and extension for an additional 180 days if the mortgagor requests this. It forbids reports to credit agencies in such cases.

Ohio Bill SB343 addresses the long-term consequences of eviction on citizens, and sets guidelines for the expungement of court files relating to eviction cases. It directs courts to order expungement if the case file is no a “reasonable predictor” of the tenant’s behavior and it would be in the interest of justice for it to be expunged.

in New Jersey authorizes up to $9.9 billion in bonds to enable the state to respond to the impact of the pandemic. It references a March Executive Order from the governor mandating an eviction moratorium extending until two months after the state declares and end to its COVID-19 health crisis and allows bond proceeds to be deposited in a Property Tax Relief Fund.

New York S8667 states that allowing evictions and foreclosures during the pandemic is counterproductive to public health and welfare and notes a disproportionate impact of both COVID-19 and the housing crisis on communities of color. It extends a moratorium on evictions of residential and commercial tenants and foreclosure of residential or commercial property until one year after the conclusion of the public health crisis.

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Carl Smith is a senior staff writer for Governing and covers a broad range of issues affecting states and localities. He can be reached at carl.smith@governing.com or on Twitter at @governingwriter.