The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented protection against evictions and financial assistance for tenants behind on their rent.
Multiple state and federal eviction moratoriums aimed to prevent renters from getting kicked out of their homes if they fell behind on their rent during the pandemic. A moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still in effect in Arizona until June 30.
The state, county and cities have received hundreds of millions of dollars to provide rental assistance to struggling renters to help them eliminate their debt and make their landlords whole.
Some metro Phoenix tenants say they are still facing eviction despite the CDC moratorium. Some landlords say they are still owed millions despite plentiful rental assistance available.
Here’s what you should know if you think your landlord is violating the CDC moratorium or if you’re struggling to get rental assistance.
Were you wrongfully evicted?
Renters who think they have been wrongfully forced out of their homes in Arizona can fight evictions by appealing them within five days of a judgement.
A new federal rule will also help tenants.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule, which took effect May 3, allows renters and federal and state authorities to sue landlords and attorneys who filed evictions illegally during the pandemic.
The new rule also requires landlords and their attorneys to provide their tenants with information about the CDC moratorium when they file for eviction.
“The new law is a huge new protection for tenants. It says landlords must tell their tenants about the CDC eviction ban,” said Pamela Bridge, director of advocacy and litigation at Community Legal Services. “And it gives tenants the right to sue landlords if they don’t follow the law.”
Maricopa County Justice Court spokesperson Scott Davis said justices of the peace have been providing information about the eviction moratoriums to renters in court, but the court applauds the new federal rule that will require landlords to do the same.
“Giving more information to the parties in any court case adds to the goal of providing fair justice to all,” Davis said.
Chris Groninger, a consumer advocate with the nonprofit Arizona Bar Foundation, said any renter who believes they were wrongfully evicted during the pandemic should contact a legal aid program immediately. The Arizona Bar Foundation has created a resource website, azevictionhelp.org, with information about legal assistance, rental aid and renters’ rights.
Rental assistance slow to reach landlords
There is still a significant amount of rental assistance left for Arizona tenants and landlords. Arizona received about a half a billion dollars in rental aid from the December stimulus package approved by Congress, and expects even more money to pour in from the American Rescue Plan approved in March.
The Arizona Multifamily Association and renter advocates have argued that the state, local cities and counties have not gotten the money to struggling landlords and renters quickly enough.
“We can’t stress enough how much government at all levels must improve the timely delivery of emergency rental assistance and foreclosure relief funds to residents and property owners in need,” said Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus, AMA president and CEO.
There’s concern the money won’t get to renters and landlords before June 30, when the CDC moratorium ends, and evictions will skyrocket as tenants owe as much as a year in back rent.
“There should be enough aid in the pipeline to avoid every single eviction and foreclosure because of unpaid rent. It’s unacceptable that aid continues to trickle out,” LeVinus said.
Joan Serviss, the executive director of the Arizona Housing Coalition, said the stringent application process is part of the reason aid has been slow to reach those in need.
She said renters should be able to receive rental aid in the same way they are supposed to qualify for the CDC eviction protection — by signing a declaration attesting that they’ve been impacted by COVID-19.
Currently, renters have to submit documentation of their COVID-19 impacts and administrators have to verify it before releasing any funds, which bogs down the process.
Many people applying for rental assistance have little to no experience applying for government help, Serviss said. This causes even more confusion and frustration.
“Most of the folks calling in now (for rental assistance), this is their first time and they’re so overwhelmed and stressed out. They might have the acumen enough to navigate the system but they’re just kind of mind-boggled by how bureaucratic it is,” Serviss said.
She suggested the state and local governments use some of their COVID-19 relief funds to hire navigators who can help people find rental help and submit their applications correctly, much like the federal government did when it launched the Affordable Care Act in 2010.
Apply for rental assistance
Arizona received $492 million in renter aid from the late December $900 billion stimulus.
Most of the money — about $290 million — will be administered for rent and utility payments in the state’s rural counties through the Arizona Department of Economic Security.
The state is taking applications for renters and landlords in rural Arizona at des.az.gov/ERAP.
In the Valley, Maricopa County, Phoenix, Mesa, Glendale, Chandler and Gilbert will have their own rental-aid programs with a total of more than $135 million in stimulus funds.
People can apply to the program using the Maricopa County portal. Additional information about the program is available by visiting maricopa.gov/renthelp.
Phoenix is taking applications for its $51.1 million renter aid program. Wildfire, which worked with Phoenix on its 2020 funding to help tenants and landlords, will administer about half of the funds.
Phoenix residents can apply at www.phoenix.gov/humanservices/programs/emergency.
Mesa is taking applications for its $15.76 million renter program at mesaaz.gov/mesacares.
Chandler and Gilbert residents can apply at azcend.org/community-action-program. Chandler has $7.9 million in federal funds for renters and Gilbert $7.7 million.
To be eligible for the aid, applicants must meet not only the geographic requirements but have a household income that is at or below 80% of Maricopa County’s median income, $56,050 for a family of three.
Households must also qualify for unemployment benefits or have been affected in some manner because of the COVID-19 pandemic, either through reduced income or increased expenses. They must also demonstrate they are at risk of homelessness or housing instability by providing past due notices.
Coverage of housing insecurity on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Arizona Community Foundation.
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