Maine Housing Attorney: CDC's Evictions Freeze Could Help Some, But Deferred Rent Will Come Due

Sep 3, 2020

The Trump administration late Tuesday announced that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control will be imposing a moratorium on evictions for Americans who are in dire financial straits due to the coronavirus pandemic. Maine Public's Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz spoke with Mike Spaulding, an attorney at Pine Tree Legal Assistance who specializes in housing issues, about how the moratorium will work, and for whom.

Gratz: Sir, welcome.

Spaulding: Thank you.

So as far as you understand it, who will qualify for this moratorium and what are its terms?

So the moratorium is pretty broadly worded as far as the housing that it applies to - it pretty much applies to every public or private housing in the United States, and probably in the territories, not including American Samoa. And on its terms, it's limited to evictions for non-payment of rent.  

So what was your reaction on hearing the news?

The tenant community - tenant attorney community - was surprised.

Is there a downside side to it?

Well, the order is very clear that tenants are still going to be required to pay this rent, eventually. And so this doesn't relieve them from the obligation to pay rent. And after December 31, 2020, all this rent would still be due. And for many tenants, it may be an insurmountable amount of money to pay back, and [they would] be subject to an eviction at that time. And probably even before December 31, landlords could pursue, you know, legal actions to recover the money that doesn't result in an eviction - so a small claims action.

Is there anything about this order that would protect the landlord from foreclosure if for any reason they can't keep up with their payments because they're not collecting any rent?

This order doesn't say anything specifically about additional protections for landlords in that category. There are some landlords who may be eligible for, you know, mortgage relief under the CARES Act still - under different provisions of the CARES Act. But the CDC order doesn't address that issue specifically,

What then would be the next step or steps that need to be taken in order to keep folks in their homes and safe until the pandemic wanes?

A portion of it would involve approval of massive rental assistance, similar to what's being proposed under the Heroes Act in the House by making tenants eligible for the rental assistance. Even some landlord attorneys - or landlord advocates - have come to recognize that that's probably the best way that they're going to get paid back, in a lot of circumstances, and be able to meet their own financial obligations if there is a huge increase in rental assistance available.

For people who might be having trouble making rent payments to this point, there's no reason not to take advantage of this moratorium offer from the government, at least for the moment.
 
I can't see any reason why a tenant would not want to take this opportunity to use what's been available in the CDC order. The CDC order does include a draft of a declaration that any tenant who is on the lease agreement or is an authorized occupant would have to provide to the landlord - and you have to be able to say under penalty of perjury - that you've had a loss in income, that you'll do your best to make partial payments when you can, that you'd be homeless. So I wouldn't recommend any tenants sign that declaration if it wasn't true. But otherwise, I think it's a great tool to to be used.

Mike Spaulding, an attorney at Pine Tree Legal Assistance who focuses on housing, thank you, sir, for the time. I really appreciate it.
 
Thank you very much.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Originally published 8: 21 a.m. September 3, 2020.