The Common Law

COVID-19 and Austin – answering your legal questions (part 2)

“The Common Law,” which typically runs monthly, has started to address your COVID-19 questions on a weekly basis. You ask. We’ll do our best to answer. And we’ll keep answering questions for as long as we remain in a period of uncertainty. Here are more questions and brief answers:

I’m out of work due to the coronavirus. My rent was due over the weekend. I didn’t pay rent because I’ve heard the city has said no rent is due in April because of the coronavirus. Is that right?

No. Rent abatement is a rapidly evolving issue due to COVID-19. At present, tenants must still pay rent, even if they were negatively impacted by COVID-19. There is some confusion on this issue by renters and landlords, largely because several orders have been passed by various governmental entities to protect renters. However, none of these efforts allow a tenant to ultimately avoid paying rent. Here’s a summary of the changes to landlord-tenant relationships in Austin:

All eviction hearings in Travis County have been postponed until at least May 8.

The city of Austin passed an ordinance that gives tenants a 60-day grace period after rent is due in April and May before eviction proceedings for nonpayment can start.

The city issued another order that prohibits a landlord’s ability to seize tenant property, deliver notices to vacate, and conduct landlord lockouts.

In summary, even under all the new orders and regulations, an Austin renter still has to pay rent. The new, current COVID-19 legal framework will delay the time it takes to evict a nonpaying tenant from the property. This is a fluid issue and could change daily. “The Common Law” will update with any future changes to Austin’s rent forgiveness programs.

I’m a housekeeper. Can I still work, or am I stopped from working due to the city’s shelter-in-place order?

This is a tricky question. “Plumbers, electricians, exterminators, pool cleaners, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences” are permitted to conduct business. See city’s Shelter-in-Place Order Section 6 (f) (ix). One can argue that a housekeeper is necessary for “sanitation.” On the other hand, one could argue that a housekeeper does not fall under this statute because it’s not necessary (i.e., it’s a preferred but not necessary activity). This is one of the many gray areas within the city’s shelter-in-place order.

Can I take my two kids to an empty parking lot and let them ride bikes to work out some energy? Or does the city of Austin’s shelter-in-place order prohibit this?

One of the essential activities that is an exception to the shelter-in-place order is “outdoor activity.” Per the city’s shelter-in-place order, “individuals may engage in outdoor activity, such as, by way of example and without limitation, walking, hiking, bicycling, or running, provided the individuals comply with Social Distancing Requirements as defined in this Section.” The outdoor activities specifically listed in the order are not exhaustive. As long as you don’t violate other laws (trespassing, for example), riding bikes in an empty parking lot would fall under permissible outdoor activities. This means that it’s OK to leave your house for this purpose as long as you can maintain appropriate social distancing.

I own a small business with a few employees. Our office has been shut down and our productivity and income have dropped due to the coronavirus shutdowns. I’ve been told I can apply to the government for assistance, but I’m honestly overwhelmed by it all. What are my options?

Small business owners should review the various government economic stimulus bills to see if they can qualify for assistance. Here are two options currently available:

First, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, recently passed by Congress, allocated $350 billion to help small businesses keep workers employed amid the pandemic and economic downturn. Known as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the initiative provides 100% federally guaranteed loans to eligible companies and organizations. Most important, these loans may be forgiven if the borrower maintains their payrolls during the crisis or restores their payrolls afterward. Yes – you read that correctly – the loans may be forgiven, meaning you may not have to pay back any of the small business loan amount you receive.

Your business will have to meet certain criteria to be eligible, including that your small business has fewer than 500 employees. You will also have to submit an application to an approved lending provider, which will include most banks, so talk to your primary business banker about submitting an application today.

Second, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EID) advance program provides a loan advance of up to $10,000 of economic relief to businesses that are currently experiencing temporary difficulties. Funds will be made available following a successful application. These funds will not have to be repaid.

Third, the U.S. Small Business Administration may offer express bridge loan opportunities as well as debt relief.

The U.S Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Small Business Administration have put together the excellent “Coronavirus Emergency Loans Guide and Checklist for Small Businesses and Nonprofits.” Review this information. Get knowledgeable about all the programs. It could be a big help to your business in uncertain times.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP,

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or

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