What Do I Do When the Moratorium on Evictions Ends?

Eviction moratoriumDuring the COVID-19 pandemic, the CARES ACT and other federal measures were introduced to protect renters from being evicted. However, that protection is ending soon and renters will be evicted as a result. One of the many questions renters probably have is will they kick me out the day after the eviction protection ends? No, not unless they can get you to leave voluntarily. Otherwise, they have to go through the legal process of eviction which, like all legal proceedings, takes some time.

There are millions of people facing potential eviction when this protection ends. They have not been making any payments, relying on this protection while they look for somewhere else to live. With rental units being so difficult to find at the moment, many are at a crossroads about what to do. 

What is the Eviction Process?

Every state is different, but to evict you from a rental unit for nonpayment of rent in many states, the landlord will need to give you official notice first. This must be given to you for seven days in some states and longer in others. The notice must usually state such things as what is owed under the contract and that the landlord will terminate the lease and file an eviction if they do not get current on their lease. After the seven day notice, the landlord will usually need to file a Complaint with the local court and officially serve the tenant as the Defendant. 

Once served, if the Defendant answers the pleading or comes to the court date then they’ll need to have a defense. If they do not answer at all, then some time after being served the judge will issue a writ of eviction. If the tenant answers the claim, there will be a court date set anywhere from two to six weeks later (depending on the State you are in). At that court date, if the tenant loses then the judge will order the writ of eviction. 

After this writ is issued, the landlord must usually wait a certain number of days before they can get law enforcement to remove the tenant. So, you basically have anywhere from three weeks to several months after you get the first notice of eviction before the police show up, depending entirely on the State laws where you live.

Do I Stay or Do I Go?

The first question to answer before determining your plan is do you want to stay in the rental unit or are you prepared to leave. If you are wanting to stay, the options are much more limited short of working something out with your landlord. If you are leaving, then there are good options out there to get rid of or reduce the liability you’ll owe as a result.

Deciding to stay means you will need to eventually work something out with the landlord. You could talk to them about making payment arrangements for the months you missed while starting to make the normal monthly rent payments at the same time. Maybe if you owe five months back rent, you can pay it over the next six months while making your current month payment and get caught up in that span of time. If you cannot afford the arrangements that your landlord is willing to agree to, then they will start the eviction process most likely.

Finding a New Place to Live

If you can find a new place to live then there are many more options available for dealing with any indebtedness resulting from the broken lease. If you can find another rental or move in with friends or relatives temporarily then once you have moved, the landlord will send you a big bill that will include the full amount you owe under the broken lease, attorney’s fees they incurred in trying to evict you, and any other fees their lease contract allows them to collect. 

At that point, the debts owed from the lease are basically unsecured debts similar to credit cards or medical bills. This means if you do not pay them, the old landlord can sue you for the debt in the county courts, receive a judgement, and use that judgment to garnish your wages or levy your bank accounts. 

Can Bankruptcy Help with an Eviction?

To avoid such things as wage garnishments and collection efforts, you would need to work something out with them and pay it over time or you can always file for bankruptcy. Talking to a local bankruptcy lawyer would be the best way to begin if you are contemplating bankruptcy as a way to help with the broken lease. 

There are two bankruptcy options generally available for individual consumers, Chapter 7 and Chapter 13, as the lawyers at the Harris Firm can explain. If you leave the rental and get a big bill then you can file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and get rid of it all fairly easily. Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharges or eliminates your unsecured debts such as this. 

If you qualify for this bankruptcy, Chapter 7 can give you a fresh start and allow you to leave your apartment or other rental and get rid of the debts and start over. Also, you could file the Chapter 7 while still in the rental unit and it creates something called an Automatic Stay of Protection that could give you another couple of months to stay in the rental until the protection ends. This would help you be able to take a bit longer looking for another place.

Chapter 13 is where you pay back your debts over a five year period. You could take your missed payments from the lease and sometimes spread them out over a five year period (along with your other debts) and possibly get current and stay in the home. If you cannot afford the current payments however, and still just need to get out, it can provide the Automatic Stay of Protection for a few months as well and then you would pay the broken lease debts resulting from leaving in the repayment plan over a five year period.