By: Jerome Wilson, Jr.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect views of the Journal, the William H. Bowen School of Law, or UA Little Rock.
Since March 2020, local, state, and federal agencies have implemented policies with the intention of preventing community spread of the Covid-19 virus. One of those many efforts is the placement of a moratorium on evictions. On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), was signed into effect. Of its many provisions, the CARES Act temporarily banned the eviction of residents in federally subsidized loans and mortgages from March 27, 2020 to July 24, 2020. Unfortunately, when Congress enacted the CARES Act, they failed to include provisions for compliance and enforcement. Without these provisions, citizens were left to the mercy of their lessors. As of July 22, 2020, an estimated 16,917,000 households were unable to pay rent or were at risk of eviction. This inability to pay rent is a direct consequence of the record unemployment numbers brought about in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
On April 28, 2020, the Supreme Court of Arkansas issued In re Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Eviction Filings, (per curiam) wherein all new eviction complaints for nonpayment of rent or other fees filed under Arkansas Code Annotated §§ 18-60-304 or 18-17-901, or failure-to-vacate charges brought under § 18-16-101, are required to affirmatively plead that the property that is the subject of the eviction dispute is not a covered dwelling under the CARES Act. The order was valid until July 25, 2020, the day after the CARES Act eviction moratorium.
According to 2010 national Census data, 30% of Arkansas households pay rent. Former William H. Bowen, School of Law Professor, Lynn Foster has tracked the number of evictions in Arkansas since March. Ms. Foster found approximately 680 evictions filed between March 27 and July 17. The tracked eviction filings are as follows: March-17, April-117, May-149, June-254, and July-139. Overall, more single female tenants are evicted than single male or couples. In April, May and June the percentages where single women were evicted were 50%, 43%, and 52% respectively. Women and minorities fill the majority of the positions in the service and hospitality industries. As a result, these populations are more severely affected by the pandemic. Today, many of these roles have not returned to pre-pandemic status as citizens are still reluctant to travel, causing a continued loss of income for these households.
Following the expiration of the CARES Act eviction moratorium, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) passed a Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions To Prevent the Further Spread of Covid-19. Passed on September 4, 2020, this policy is active until December 31, 2020. Eligible citizens are those that have used “best efforts” to obtain government assistance to fund their housing, make less than $99,000 a year or $198,000 if filing jointly, has a substantial loss of income as a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic, has used “best efforts” to make timely or partial payments, and eviction would likely cause the resident to be homeless. This policy, like its’ predecessors, is designed to keep citizens from being forced into congregate living spaces such as homeless shelters. Unlike the previous policies, this law includes penalties for violators. If a person violates the provisions of this law and their violation does not result in a death or one year in jail by the victim, they could be subject to a fine up to $100,000. If the violation does result in a death or one year in jail the potential fine increases to $250,000. For organizations, the fines are up to $200,000 and $500,000 respectively.
For those that are protected from eviction as a result of these policies, it is imperative to remember that the rent payments/mortgages that are suspended now will be due at some point in the future. Unless something else is done, it is safe to expect many more evictions beginning in January 2021 as past dues bills become due all at once. In the meantime, if you are served an eviction notice because you cannot pay rent and you are a qualified individual under the Temporary Halt, please contact the Center for Arkansas Legal services at 1-800-950-5817.