What Are a Tenant’s Rights During Eviction?
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the sweeping employment and economic changes it brought, many cities began implementing emergency bans on evictions to protect tenants who were unable to pay rent on time or at all. In some cases, landlords were also barred from charging late fees or penalties for nonpayment to lessen financial burdens on tenants. Many of these moratoriums were instituted in March and April of 2020, but their impending expirations — many of which are happening in July and August — have tenants wondering what recourse is available to them if they’re still unable to cover rent payments once the bans’ expiration dates arrive.
While some city mayors have implemented indefinite holds on evictions that can remain in place even when state moratoriums expire, and others have created rental assistance programs in addition to barring utility shutoffs, pandemic-related renting protections in many areas are on track to expire without renewals. It’s likely that a wave of evictions will follow these expirations, with some estimates placing the number of those who may become homeless as high as 28 million.
Facing eviction can be frightening and destabilizing, particularly in the wake of a layoff or the looming expiration of the CARES Act’s Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which is set to expire the week of July 26 unless Congress moves to extend it. Many tenants aren’t in better financial positions now that the pandemic has endured longer than government leaders anticipated, and the potential loss of their housing stands to further complicate their life situations. But there’s hope. Protections exist to safeguard tenants, and it’s important to understand these rights to learn what steps to take if you may be facing eviction.
Tenants’ Rights: The Basics
Housing is a basic human right — or at least it should be. This is codified in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a number of other texts that serve as legal and reference sources, which countries, states and other similar areas under governance may base their laws off of. Another of these documents is the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which "recognizes the human right to adequate housing as a government obligation." The U.S. signed the ICESCR but has never ratified it, meaning it has never officially enacted the provisions of the document or required them of any states. However, the right to housing is understood and recognized in a number of ways throughout the country, and one of the ways this manifests is in tenants’ rights.
What Does the Eviction Process Involve?
Although, again, each state’s laws regarding eviction vary, the process generally follows a similar trajectory no matter where you are. This sample timeline from the Tenants Union of Washington State can help you anticipate what to expect. Keep in mind that the lengths of time between each step of the process may vary depending on where you live, too; this outline is meant to give you a general idea about what an eviction looks like from start to finish.
What Rights Do You Have as a Tenant?
You have a number of rights as a tenant, like the right to livable conditions with working plumbing, heating and electricity. You have a right to live in a home that’s reasonably clean and doesn’t pose you any health issues. You have a right to privacy, meaning your landlord can’t unreasonably interfere with or enter your residence. You have the right to not be discriminated against by your landlord on the basis of your race, gender, familial status, disability, religion, ethnicity or national origin. And when facing an eviction specifically, you also have certain rights.
Protecting Yourself and Preparing for Eviction
As more statewide eviction bans begin lifting across the country, housing courts are also set to begin reopening. This will pave the way for millions of rent-burdened households to face evictions that can be processed unless the House of Representatives’ proposed $100 billion allocation to rental assistance plans is approved in the Senate or Senator Elizabeth Warren’s bill banning all evictions until March of 2021 passes. For now the passing of these proposals seems unlikely — so what should you do if you’re worried about getting evicted when existing protections are rolled back? Making a plan gives you a roadmap to follow and can alleviate some of the anxiety that arises from this uncertainty.
Helpful Resources for Tenants
Understanding evictions and how they relate to tenants’ rights can require some careful research, and it’s always a wise idea to get help from a knowledgeable source if you need to come up with a plan of action. The great news is that plenty of organizations and other resources exist to help renters navigate the often confusing and complicated world of tenants’ rights, even in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.