The Austin Chronicle

Council to Vote on "Anti-Eviction Ordinance"

By Austin Sanders, March 23, 2020, 3:30pm, Newsdesk

City Council will vote on an “anti-eviction ordinance” at its meeting on Thursday, March 26, that will effectively give people struggling to pay rent an additional two months to do so before landlords can begin eviction proceedings against them.

The ordinance has been posted as an emergency item for Thursday’s meeting, meaning if passed, it will go into effect immediately, without the typical ten-day waiting period. So, residents and businesses who are scrambling to figure out how they will pay April rent would have an additional 60 days from when that rent is due to work out a plan with their landlords.

Council Member Greg Casar, lead sponsor of the proposed ordinance, told the Chronicle, “Austinites were already having trouble paying their rent before we were in a pandemic. Now things are so much worse for thousands of people, and this ordinance will provide people some of the time they need so badly to rebound.”

Travis County’s five Justices of the Peace issued an order on March 13 that would delay issuance of writs of possession until after May 8, but landlords could still begin eviction proceedings during that window. That could include posting a “notice to vacate” on a renter’s home, which requires people to leave within 24 hours before the landlord begins the eviction process in court.

But if the Council ordinance – co-sponsored by Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, and CM Kathie Tovo – passes, landlords could not take that step until 60 days after a tenant is unable to pay their rent. If a tenant can pay April’s rent, but not the May rent, their grace period would end before the July payment is due. If the social distancing measures required to contain spread of the coronavirus are still in place in May, Council could vote to extend the grace period further. The ordinance would both protect people from COVID-19 by ensuring they have housing now, and prevent eviction filings that can make it more difficult to obtain housing in the future.

Renters would not have to apply for the protection, if it is implemented, but landlords would be responsible for checking in with their tenants to see if they have been impacted by economic fallout stemming from COVID-19. Renters could report landlords not complying with the ordinance, if it passed on Thursday.

Tovo, who represents a large number of renters in her central-city District 9, said, “During these uncertain times, housing security is paramount, and these actions will protect renters from eviction. I appreciate Council Member Casar’s leadership on this item, and I remain a steadfast advocate for our City’s renters.”

But as Casar noted during Facebook Live broadcast addressing the ordinance earlier this afternoon, the city can only provide a grace period before eviction proceedings are initiated – they cannot stop landlords from demanding back rent once the grace period is over. Late fees could also accumulate during the grace period, making it more difficult for tenants to pay what they owe, which could lead to evictions.

The hope is that landlords can work with their tenants to develop some kind of deferred payment system, and in turn, landlords could do the same with the banks holding their mortgages, to give everyone more time to rebound from lost income during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We don’t want for people to have an eviction notice hanging over their heads as they try to make their way through a crisis,” Casar told us. “The grace period creates an opportunity for tenants to work out payment plans with their landlords while they get back on their feet financially.”

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