Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced a halt to evictions in March to prevent people from being unsheltered during the coronavirus pandemic. Public health officials and lawmakers have urged people to stay home as much as they can to curb the illness.
On Sept. 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its own eviction moratorium to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Tenants, landlords and homeowners alike have reached out to the Star Tribune with questions about how the eviction moratorium works and what rights people have amid the pandemic. Here are answers to some of those questions.
Q: When does the Minnesota eviction moratorium end?
A: Sept. 11, the date Walz’s peacetime emergency order expires. The governor could decide to extend it. If he does not, people can start filing actions in housing court as soon as Sept. 14.
Q: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently put out its own eviction moratorium. How will that affect us in Minnesota?
A: The CDC’s moratorium calls for a stop on evictions through Dec. 31. The CDC’s order is at best a backstop should Walz decide to not extend the state’s eviction ban, according to housing advocates, because it applies only to nonpayment of rent cases and tenants have to submit a special declaration form to their landlord to potentially prevent an eviction filing. Without that form, if the Minnesota eviction moratorium were to end, tenants who have not paid rent could get kicked out. Also, under the CDC order, tenants can still be evicted if there’s property damage, they’re housing people not on the lease, or other situations.
Q: Do the moratoriums mean people don’t have to pay rent?
A: No. The executive order and the CDC order do not relieve people from having to pay their rent or mortgage each month. In fact, Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison, lawmakers, tenant advocacy groups and landlords have continuously urged people to make rent and mortgage payments if they can or seek financial help that may be available to them if they cannot.
Q: What can I do if I can’t pay my rent?
A: The state’s COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program provides payments to help prevent eviction, prevent homelessness, and maintain housing stability for eligible renters and homeowners. Minnesotans interested in applying can call Greater Twin Cities United Way Helpline at (800) 543-7709, (651) 291-0211, visiting 211unitedway.org, or texting “MNRENT” or “MNHOME” to 898-211.
Q: What do I do if my landlord or mortgage lender is trying to evict me now?
A: The attorney general’s office has urged people to file a complaint so it can intervene. At the same time, residents are being encouraged to talk to their landlords about their situation. So far, the attorney general’s office has fielded more than 1,200 complaints related to alleged moratorium violations. Homeowners are encouraged to call their mortgage lender to make arrangements.
Q: Does a landlord have any options for evicting a bad tenant?
A: Yes. Under the executive order, evictions are allowed in cases where a tenant seriously endangers the safety of other residents or violates other laws, such as bringing in controlled substances, engaging in prostitution or using or possessing firearms unlawfully. In those situations, landlords can still file for an eviction, and tenants can be removed from the property if they lose in court. But tenant rights advocates say the burden of proof for landlords is still quite high.
Q: What about homeowners who can’t pay their mortgage?
A: Homeowners are encouraged to call their mortgage lenders to see if they can put their payments into forbearance or work out other arrangements. The state’s eviction moratorium covers homeowners who were about to be evicted after a foreclosure. Banks are being encouraged under the order to halt foreclosure proceedings, evictions and late fees for mortgage payments if the homeowner saw a decrease in income or an increase in medical expenses caused by COVID-19.
Q: What’s going to happen when housing court opens again?
A: Tenant advocacy groups and the courts are bracing for a wave of eviction filings, between unpaid rents and landlords reporting tenant unruliness. While landlords have been trying to work out payment plans and help tenants access financial assistance and other social services like unemployment help and food assistance, landlords’ livelihoods depend on rent checks.
Q: Nationally, there has been talk of an eviction crisis coming. Is that going to happen here in Minnesota?
A: It depends on who you ask. The courts have expressed concern that there will be an onslaught of filings when the moratorium ends. Tenants rights advocates say they believe the crisis is coming due to the number of tenants who have been unable to pay rent in the last several months due to wage loss, job loss, or not qualifying for rent assistance programs. Among landlords, some have said they’ve been able to work out payment plans and tenants have been able to keep paying rent on time without trouble.
On the flip side, some landlords are suffering because the lack of rent payments means they’re paying out of pocket for property taxes, utilities and repairs. They’ve also expressed frustration that their tenants have refused to pay rent even though they can thanks to unemployment benefits.