The federal government on Sept. 4 issued an emergency order to halt residential evictions through the end of the year.
Enacted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the moratorium seeks to stem the spread of COVID–19, seasonal influenza and the increased risk of homeless shelters becoming overcrowded in fall and winter.
What does that mean for Milwaukee renters who may be struggling to make payments because of the COVID-19 pandemic?
We break it down for you.
1. Do I have to pay rent?
The short answer is yes, even if you lost your job because of COVID-19.
The order stopped evictions, but it did not suspend rent.
You are still obligated to pay your rent and will be responsible for back rent once the order is lifted.
“Rent is still due,” said Deb Heffner, housing strategy director of Community Advocates. “Rental assistance programs are still operating.”
Community Advocates received $7 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to assist families in Milwaukee County who face eviction or are behind on rent due to a COVID-19-related loss of income.
Heffner explained that a qualification of the moratorium is that tenants have done everything they could to avoid eviction.
“What we don’t want to see is people being evicted as soon as the order is lifted,” she said.
2. If I don’t pay this month, will I be evicted?
You can if you don’t submit a declaration form to your landlord. Once tenants have submitted the declaration, they cannot be evicted until after Dec. 31.
3. How do I qualify?
The eviction moratorium applies to those who:
- have tried their best to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing;
- expect to earn less than $99,000 in annual income this year (or less than $198,000 if filing a joint tax return), were not required to report any income in 2019 to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service or received a stimulus check;
- cannot pay full rent or housing payment due to loss of household income, loss of hours of work or wages, layoffs, or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses;
- are doing their best to pay what they can on their rent;
- would likely become homeless, need to move into a homeless shelter or need to move into a new residence shared by other people who live in close quarters because no other available housing options are available.
4. What happens if the declaration is violated?
Pedro Hernandez, community redevelopment attorney of the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, said all violators can face criminal penalties.
For a tenant, this would mean “lying about their situation,” Hernandez said. “For a landlord or company, it would be disregarding the order.”
He said evictions do not often result in someone going to jail but penalties for violating this order are a year in jail, a fine of no more than $100,000 or both.
5. Can I be evicted for any reason even if I am covered?
Yes. You can still be evicted for:
- engaging in criminal activity while on the premises;
- threatening the health or safety of other residents;
- damaging or posing an immediate and significant risk of damage to property;
- violating building code or anything relating to health and safety;
- and violating any other contractual obligation, other than the timely payment of rent.
Resources to consult if you’re worried about eviction
- Community Advocates rent helpline: 414-270-4646
- Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee: 414-727-5300
- Mediate Milwaukee: 414-939-8800
- Legal Action of Wisconsin: 855-947-2529
- Social Development Commission: 414-906-2700
Check out our Instagram Story on “Milwaukee resources to help you avoid evictions.”