It’s the moment housing advocates have been preparing the entire last year for: the end of the federal eviction moratorium.
"I was frankly surprised that it lasted as long as it did," said Eric Dunn, the director of litigation with the National Housing Law Project.
He and his team have been brushing up on the strategies and arguments they’ll be making on behalf of tenants.
Right now, it’s estimated that more than 8 million Americans, or 20% of the rental market, are behind on rent, and about 3.5 million renters are expected to be evicted in the next two months.
"That's four times as many evictions in two months as the U.S. normally sees in an entire year," said Dunn.
If you are possibly facing evictions, here are the steps Dunn says you should take.
The first is to apply for emergency rental assistance. Congress set nearly $46 billion aside for this. Find out where the program is in your area and apply as soon as you can to get in line, as distribution has been slow. If approved, you can get 18 months covered.
"Most tenants who are going to be behind on rent, are going to qualify for that," Dunn said.
And in at least five states, including New York and Nevada, you cannot get evicted if you have applied for this money and are waiting to get it.
Second, seek legal help by looking up aid programs in your area. In many cases, there are more than one. Not only will it help you find out if you qualify for assistance, but it can help identify any defenses you may have against eviction and help negotiate with your landlord.
The third is to make sure you keep your paperwork and show up to the court dates. Dunn says this because in some situations, a landlord may not show up and that can buy you some more time.
Dunn also suggests finding a tenant advocacy organization that pushes for more protections on the local and state level.
But what if you’re evicted and if you have trouble finding a new place to rent?
"A lot of landlords will just categorically deny admission to anyone who's ever been sued for eviction, no matter what the circumstances," said Dunn.
Some states or cities have enacted laws preventing landlords from denying an application because of a COVID-related eviction. If you are denied, however, Dunn says to write a letter to the property manager, asking them to reconsider. If not, there’s the legal route.
"There are arguments under fair housing laws that that can be used to challenge some of these policies, especially of just categorically denying housing," he said.
Hopefully, this advice will help navigate an uncertain housing future in this port-moratorium time.