Franklin, TN Lawyers Providing Legal Information on Evictions During COVID-19
When the COVID-19 coronavirus began to spread across the United States, federal and state governments acted quickly to soften the immediate impact on Americans. Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”), which included moratoriums on evictions for covered dwellings; and the Tennessee Supreme Court placed a moratorium on evictions until June 1, 2020 for unpaid rent. Since Tennessee began to reopen, there is confusion on how to proceed with the evictions process. Here are some common questions that we keep encountering:
Q (Tenant): I thought I could not get evicted during the pandemic due to the CARES Act?
Q (Landlord): I thought I could not evict my tenants because of the CARES Act?
A: The CARES Act eviction moratorium applied to certain covered dwellings under federal law: persons living in federally subsidized housing, public housing, or a landlord with a federally backed mortgage. For properties covered by the CARES Act, the moratorium extends until July 24, 2020. After that, landlords of covered dwellings must give a 30-day notice to their tenants to evict. Additionally, landlords are not allowed to charge any late fees before they file the paperwork to evict the current tenants. In contrast, Tennessee lifted its eviction moratorium on June 1, 2020, and courts are currently hearing eviction cases and evicting tenants in breach of their lease agreement.
Q: What was in Tennessee’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium?
A: The Tennessee Supreme Court prevented courts from hearing non-payment of rent eviction cases unless there was an extreme emergency until June 1 of this year. Landlords of properties that are not included in the CARES Act may begin to file and have their cases heard before a judge after June 1, 2020.
Q (Tenant): Was my rent still due during the moratoriums?
Q (Landlord): Should I still expect to receive rent payments during the moratoriums?
A: Yes. The state and federal decisions simply hit the pause button on a landlord’s ability to evict tenants for non-payment of rent during the specified timeframes and dwellings. Rent is still due, and late fees may accrue. However, if you live in a covered dwelling landlords are prohibited from seeking late fees under the CARES Act. So, if a tenant lived in a property that was not covered under the CARES Act, the landlord has every right to start eviction proceedings against a tenant that has not paid rent in violation of the existing lease agreement.
Q: How do evictions work in Tennessee?
A: Tennessee law mandates that in order to evict a tenant, the landlord must receive permission from the courts. Once a landlord files a detainer warrant for possession of the property, both parties have an opportunity to present their case in front of the judge. If the judge rules in favor of the landlord, they will sign an order granting the landlord possession of the premises, and giving the tenant a certain amount of time to vacate the premises. Landlords cannot use self-help or ouster methods to force tenants to leave, examples of these methods include: turning off essential services (utilities), changing the locks, or removing a tenant’s belongings from the property.
Q: What changes have taken place in the eviction process since COVID-19 began?
A: Landlords are now required to file a declaration that the property that they are seeking possession of is not a covered dwelling. The declaration must be filed 10-days prior to any hearing on the matter. If the declaration is not filed, the hearing will be postponed. The declaration does not apply to commercial leases.
As of publication of this article, Davidson County has suspended eviction hearings in General Sessions through July 31, 2020 due to COVID-19 cases rising. Whether this newest moratorium remains in effect longer is unknown at this time, as there are a myriad of factors that contribute to closing down the courts. However, the Tennessee Public Utility Commission has suspended shut utility shutoffs for nonpayment while Tennessee remains in a state of emergency.
These are just some of the issues that are arising as the various state and federal protections are lifted. If you believe you are experiencing a breach of your lease call our office to see how one of our attorneys can help guide you through this process.
Post Authored by: Gloria D. Crawford