The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put forth an order this week that halts most residential evictions through Dec. 31 “to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.” Brazos County justices of the peace said Friday they intend to follow the order and “proceed with caution” as they wait to see whether Texas leaders such as Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton and, potentially, the Texas Supreme Court, weigh in on the CDC moratorium.
The CDC order indicates that in their analysis, a moratorium on evictions can be an effective public health measure utilized to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. According to the order, back rent will be due Jan. 1.
“COVID-19 presents a historic threat to public health,” the order reads. “Eviction moratoria facilitate self-isolation by people who become ill or who are at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 due to an underlying medical condition. They also allow state and local authorities to more easily implement stay-at-home and social distancing directives to mitigate the community spread of COVID-19.”
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Before the CDC order, Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Celina Vasquez had extended a moratorium on evictions in her precinct, initially enacted in mid-July, through Sept. 30.
“In terms of public health, it’s still a critical issue. That has not changed, and it’s still a concern for me. It’s still in the best interest of public safety for all of our residents,” Vasquez said Friday.
Vasquez noted the combination of health and economic pains caused by the virus and said it has deeply impacted residents in Precinct 4, which is the western part of Brazos County. The 77803 zip code, which is part of her precinct, has seen 1,272 total cases since the start of the pandemic, the second-highest total in the county.
“I can only speak on Precinct 4 — and in Precinct 4, people have lost jobs and are economically hurting. I hear and see that first-hand every single day — that many are unable to make ends,” Vasquez said. “I think it’s the right thing and the necessary thing to do.”
Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Rick Hill said Friday that tenants that to be covered by the order, must provide a declaration to their landlord, under threat of perjury, that they fit a five-point criterion as outlined by the CDC.
“We’re going to follow the CDC order,” he said. “You’re still responsible for paying your rent … and they can be evicted, however, for things other than nonpayment of rent,” Hill said.
The CDC order includes a number of stipulations, including that the individual must show they have “used best efforts to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing.” Additionally, the individual must show that they are unable to pay rent because of a loss of work and income and that efforts to make partial payments have been made. Foreclosures for home mortgages are not included.
The order also states that landlords shall not evict any tenant for nonpayment if that person is making $99,000 or less — or $198,000 for a couple.
“Most of the evictions that I’m hearing are ‘last resort’ evictions. Landlords have been working with these individuals and trying — and you know, I have some who haven’t lost jobs,” Hill said. “They’ve just decided to quit paying their rent. That’s what worries me about just saying ‘I’m not doing evictions anymore.’ ”
Evictions of tenants in some federally assisted residences were blocked nationally by a late-March CARES Act moratorium; that protection for residents ended July 24, though Vasquez effectively extended that order for Precinct 4 in both time and scope.
In Texas, landlords not covered by the CARES Act have possessed the ability to evict tenants since
May 19, which was the expiration date of a Texas Supreme Court moratorium. Brazos County’s JPs began processing evictions in late June.
“This has been a roller coaster ride of figuring how to do the right thing,” Hill said.