A federal eviction moratorium expired Friday, and housing attorneys are concerned about a potential surge in evictions across Texas during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, prevented landlords from taking new eviction actions against renters who haven't paid their rent on certain federally backed properties through Friday. This includes affordable housing supported by federal government programs, including Section 8, the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and Housing Choice Vouchers.
Evictions are already resuming in many parts of Texas, leaving unemployed renters with few options and undocumented immigrants with even fewer in a system that housing attorneys - and some eviction judges - say is already stacked against tenants.
Here's what you should know about evictions in Texas.
How do I know if my residence was covered under this moratorium?
The best way is to verify with your landlord. To do so, you can use this letter template created by Texas Housers, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and BASTA Austin. They have also created this map to help you determine whether your multifamily residence is covered under the federal moratorium. The map does not include single-family properties and smaller residences with one to four units. Keep in mind that even if your residence is not listed on this map, it could be covered by the CARES Act.
If your residence is covered by the CARES Act, beginning Saturday, your landlord may serve you with a notice to vacate your residence for not paying rent, file a nonpayment of rent eviction case or charge you a late fee for nonpayment of rent.
Will I get additional time to move out of my residence?
Yes. Landlords must provide renters living in properties covered by the moratorium with a 30-day notice to vacate before formally filing an eviction for any reason. So a landlord cannot initiate legal proceedings until Aug. 25.
Do some parts of Texas have local moratoriums on evictions?
Some local jurisdictions in Texas - such as Dallas County and the city of Austin - have their own moratoriums. Check with your city or county to see if it has implemented an extended moratorium. You can also visit this webpage from the University of Texas School of Law to see a list of measures local jurisdictions have taken to protect tenants.
How can an eviction affect me in the future?
Landlords often report a tenant's debts to debt collectors and credit reporting agencies, which then go on a renter's credit report or tenant screening report, said Nelson Mock, a housing attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.
"Also, the filing of eviction cases, as well as the disposition of a case such as dismissal or judgments, are picked up through public records by tenant screening agencies and credit reporting agencies, and those also get reported in credit reports and tenant screening reports," he wrote in an email. "These all make it very difficult for a tenant to rent again."
Will moving out prior to an eviction help me avoid tarnishing my personal credit?
Not necessarily. A landlord could still report your debts to a credit reporting agency, said Mary Spector, professor of law at Southern Methodist University's Dedman School of Law and director of its civil/consumer clinic.
"So that a new landlord can look up an applicant and see that she was delinquent in her last apartment, and that new landlord may not want to rent to that person," she said. "So I think people mistakenly think that if they move out, they might avoid that sort of bad mark against their record, but that's not necessarily true."
Can I get arrested for not leaving the property after an initial notice to vacate?
Not complying with an initial notice to vacate will not get you arrested. A tenant is legally required to vacate a property within 24 hours only after a formal eviction is filed, a judge rules on the case, any appeal is concluded and a constable serves a writ of possession.
What's the eviction process in Texas?
You can visit this page on the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service's website to learn how an eviction works. You can also call the organizations below to learn more about the eviction process.
Where can I get free legal help?
You can find free, or pro bono, legal help at various legal aid groups and legal clinics across the state. Legal aid groups are nonprofit organizations that serve low-income clients; legal clinics are affiliated with law schools and also typically provide free legal services to clients. In certain areas of Texas, there may be more groups and clinics than in others. Here are some of the resources by region:
South and Central Texas:
Texas RioGrande Legal Aid offers free legal assistance, services and information in partnership with the University of Texas School of Law, BASTA Austin and Texas Housers. Based in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid also has offices in San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and El Paso. Fill out this online application to apply for legal services.
The St. Mary's School of Law has an eviction hotline for South Texas residents in partnership with the University of Texas School of Law and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. Call 210-570-6135 and leave a message with your full name, phone number and a brief description of the legal problem.
North and West Texas:
The Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law offers a free legal helpline for North Texas residents in collaboration with DallasEvictions2020, Legal Aid of Northwest Texas and the University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law. Call 214-768-2683.
Houston and Southeast Texas:
Lone Star Legal Aid, based in Houston with offices around eastern Texas, offers free legal aid and information about evictions during COVID-19. Call 800-733-8394 or apply online for assistance.
Where can I get rental assistance?
The National Low Income Housing Coalition has put together a spreadsheet of rental assistance programs. Filter by "Texas" to see what programs are available in the state.
You can also access the Texas Department of Health and Human Services' 211 Texas website for more statewide housing resources.
Many counties and cities are also offering rental assistance programs for residents.
Keep in mind that rental assistance programs tend to run out of funds quickly, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I'm undocumented. Can I still get free legal help and rental assistance?
It depends. Some groups that receive federal grants are not allowed to help undocumented renters. Other groups do not ask about a renter's immigration status. Check with the individual group to determine whether you're eligible to receive help.
Where can I learn more about my rights as a tenant?
Among other organizations, the Texas Tenants' Union offers free online know-your-rights workshops on a regular basis.
I'm a reader who wants to help out. Where do I start?
You can check with the legal clinics and aid groups listed above if they are accepting donations, or visit their websites to donate money online. You may also be able to donate your time to the organizations as a volunteer.