I-Team 8

Federal eviction moratorium does not protect all renters struggling to pay rent

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Some Hoosiers struggling to pay rent could lose their homes despite a nationwide halt on evictions through the end of the year.

The 37-page order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) took effect Sept. 4 but does not protect all tenants facing nonpayment eviction. It also does not waive rental debt or prevent landlords from collecting interest when the moratorium expires Dec. 31.

Renters must provide a signed declaration stating they meet the moratorium’s five requirements

  • their income does not exceed $99,000
  • they used “best efforts” to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing
  • they used “best efforts” to make timely partial payments 
  • they would likely become homeless or be forced into shared living quarters if evicted
  • they are unable to pay full rent due to income loss or “extraordinary” out-of-pocket medical expenses

A false declaration could lead to criminal prosecution for perjury, attorneys said.

Renters facing eviction may not be able to afford legal counsel to help determine if the steps they took to negotiate payment agreements or apply for rental aid qualify as “best efforts.”

An Indianapolis tenant who said COVID-19 devastated her small business initially believed she was covered by the federal eviction moratorium. She faltered after studying the requirements and consulting with attorneys.

“It’s been extremely confusing. I don’t have a clear answer,” the tenant said.

She feared retaliation from her landlord, who refused to participate in the city’s rental assistance program, and requested not to be identified in this report.

An eviction case was filed against her in Washington Township small claims court days before the CDC issued its order. 

Location could impact the outcome of her case; eviction hearing procedures vary across Marion County courts, according to research and interviews conducted by nonprofit think tank New America Indianapolis.

“Each township court works a little bit differently,” said Molly Martin, director of nonprofit think tank New America Indianapolis. “Each judge brings their own ethos and approach to working with tenants to get them back on track… People find stark differences in their treatment and experiences based on the township that they’re in.”

Chase Haller, an attorney with Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic in Indianapolis, anticipated a more uniform response to the CDC’s broad federal directive.

He urged renters to research their rights and seek free legal aid before signing sworn statements under oath.

The Indianapolis tenant who spoke with News 8 is among the influx of renters who contacted Haller for help when the statewide eviction moratorium ended in August.

“Just hang in there and keep faith,” she advised other Hoosiers fighting to keep their homes.