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Declare Your Rights: Stop Your Eviction With These Easy Steps

Community Legal Services' Pamela Bridge has some tips on avoiding being evicted if you can't pay rent.EXPAND
Community Legal Services' Pamela Bridge has some tips on avoiding being evicted if you can't pay rent.
Youtube

On September 2, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order preventing tenants from being evicted for not being able to pay rent until the end of the year. It goes way beyond Governor Doug Ducey's order that limited when people could be removed from their homes, and offers a relatively straightforward way to bring an attempted eviction to a full stop.

"The CDC order is extremely, extremely broad," said Pamela Bridge, a local attorney and director of litigation and advocacy for Community Legal Services, in a webinar yesterday. Her organization, a nonprofit Arizona law firm that provides legal aid to people who can't afford other representation, put together resources to help understand how to take advantage of the CDC's eviction moratorium.

Here's what you need to know about asserting your rights, according to Bridge. Her full presentation is embedded at the bottom of this post.

How to Qualify

The moratorium only applies to tenants who could be evicted for not paying rent. Evictions for violating the lease otherwise aren't covered. Courts in Maricopa County have also said that it doesn't apply to landlords who decide not to renew a month-to-month lease, although Bridge said to contact Community Legal Services if your landlord isn't renewing due to unpaid rent — you may have a valid argument, she said.

You also need to meet the following requirements:

  • Your name must be on the lease.
  • Your yearly income must be less than $99,000 individually or $198,000 as a couple, or low enough that you don't have to report it. You automatically fulfill this requirement if you received a CARES Act stimulus check.
  • You must have lost substantial income due to reduced hours or wages, being laid off, or paying medical bills out-of-pocket that exceed 7.5 percent of your income. Importantly, none of this has to be directly because of COVID-19.
  • Being evicted would leave you homeless. Or it would force you to move into: substandard housing; a dwelling that put you in close quarters with others; or housing that would cost more than where you're currently living.
  • You must have used your "best efforts" to apply for government assistance and set up a payment plan with your landlord. The key language is "best effort," even if your landlord isn't interested in helping. As long as you make a good-faith effort, you qualify.

While there is no documentation required to support these qualifications, document everything you can in case you have to go to court. Communicate with your landlord via text or email, screenshot assistance applications, etc. All of this applies even if you live in subsidized housing.

Say you're a restaurant employee who's had work hours cut. The stimulus check came in the spring, but it's a long time since then and you're worried about making rent this month. Moving isn't an option as you can't find adequate housing that would cost less than what you're paying currently. Quickly apply for all the rental assistance you can find (the county's landing page is a good starting point), text your landlord with a proposed payment plan, and then move on to the next step.

Activating the Eviction Hold

If you meet all of the above requirements, invoking your rights is actually quite simple. You just have to send your landlord a signed document saying that you meet the requirements. You can do this at any point, from before you miss a rent payment to after you've been ordered to leave. As soon as you do that, the eviction process should come to a complete halt.

Here's a declaration put together by Community Legal Services that you can just fill out and send, in English and in Spanish. It's worth noting that when you sign the document, it's under penalty of perjury. As long as you really do meet the requirements, you'll avoid any trouble.

Bridge said to make sure you retain a copy of the declaration. If you can send it via text, email, or certified mail, all the better.

Declaration Power

Once you send the declaration to your landlord, they may not evict you for not paying rent. If they take you to court, you can present evidence that you submitted the declaration. That should stop them from going forward. Even if you didn't submit a declaration beforehand, you can prepare one and bring it to court with you for the same effect. Landlords who violate the CDC order after you filed a declaration could face a $100,000 fine.

This is a big difference from Governor Ducey's order, which prevents you from being physically removed from your house once a judge had ruled that you should be evicted. If you invoke your rights in time under the CDC's order, you can avoid having an eviction on your record that could make it more difficult to find future housing.

What It Doesn't Do

You still have to pay what rent you can. One of the requirements for the stay of eviction is making a good-faith effort to work out a payment plan with your landlord. Your landlord can also come after you in the future for the rent you owe, even if they can't kick you out of your home for not having it.

Currently, the order expires at the end of the year. If you still have unpaid rent and haven't worked out a deal with your landlord by then, they can try to evict you after that point.

If you violate your lease in another way before then, you could also be evicted.

How Ducey's Order Fits In

Ducey's order, which expires at the end of October, is generally worse than the CDC's. But if you don't meet the income requirements or are renting month-to-month, it may be your best bet. It won't stop an eviction from being entered against you, but you can use it to try and stop a constable from changing your locks or removing you from your home.

It requires documentation of ongoing, COVID-related financial hardship, and documentation that you've filled out an application for rental assistance. You must still have proposed a payment plan to your landlord. Here are forms in English and Spanish.

Some General Tips

Bridge said to make sure you're communicating with your landlord through the process, and, of course, documenting everything you can.

If you know you can't make rent and want to avoid an eviction on your record, one other option is to just vacate the property, Bridge said. You will still owe the rent, but you can avoid incurring an eviction on your record that will make future housing more difficult. One potential drawback: This might cause you to forfeit your security deposit, depending on your lease.

Need More Info?

Community Legal Services has an FAQ on the CDC order here, and all of their information about COVID-19 here. You can contact them for assistance in English and Spanish if you have questions or issues. The city of Phoenix also pays for legal assistance for people facing eviction — find information on that program here.

Below: Bridge's full webinar video:

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