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What you should know about the federal eviction moratorium

This article was updated on March 30, 2021, to reflect the federal eviction moratorium extension the Centers for Disease Control passed on March 29, 2021. The eviction moratorium was set to expire on March 31, 2021, but the CDC extended the moratorium to June 30, 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant blow to the country’s economy, leading to high unemployment rates and many tenants wondering how they were going to pay their monthly rent. The Centers for Disease Control issued the federal eviction moratorium in September 2020, but that order is set to expire at the end of this month. 

Roger Dyer, a lawyer with Mid-Missouri Legal Services who specializes in housing law, answered several frequently-asked questions regarding the moratorium and what tenants may expect when it expires June 30, 2021. 

What must a landlord do to evict a tenant? 

A property owner must go through a specific legal process to evict a tenant:  filing a lawsuit, getting a judgment, filing a writ of restitution, and delivering that writ of execution to the county sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s office then will evict that tenant, Dyer said. 

Dyer emphasized landlords cannot evict tenants without going through the legal process. 

“We mostly see this where landlords go and change the locks while the tenant is away and the tenant comes back and can't get into their home, or the landlord goes and shuts off the water, something along those lines,” he said.” Those are always unlawful.” 

How does the federal eviction moratorium change that process? 

Tenants who meet specific criteria under the federal eviction moratorium have additional protections in certain areas up until the moratorium ends. Tenants can read the list of criteria on the CDC’s website.  

“Essentially if the eviction is due to the tenant's inability to meet one of the financial obligations under the lease agreement, then it's generally going to be covered,” Dyer said. 

However, a property owner can evict a tenant for something that is non-financial, such as the tenant engaging in criminal activity; the tenant threatening the health and safety of another resident; the tenant violating any contractual obligations in the lease other than the timely payment of rent; and more, the CDC order states. 

How does a tenant get protection under the federal eviction moratorium? 

Click here to download the CDC’s eviction moratorium declaration form. Once a tenant fills out the CDC declaration form, they should give it to their landlord. If the tenant already has an eviction lawsuit against them, Dyer added, they should also give the signed declaration form to the court. 

Does the federal eviction moratorium prevent a landlord from evicting a tenant? 

If a tenant has filed the declaration, the landlord can still file a lawsuit and get a court judgment to evict the tenant, Dyer said. However, the landlord cannot take the final step of getting a writ of restitution and asking the sheriff’s office to evict the tenant until the moratorium ends, he added. 

Does the eviction moratorium mean a tenant doesn’t have to pay the missed rent? 

No, the federal eviction moratorium is temporary and “does not relieve any individual of any obligation to pay rent, make a housing payment, or comply with any other obligation that the individual may have under a tenancy, lease, or similar contract,” according to the CDC’s order. 

I have an eviction lawsuit filed against me, but I submitted the CDC’s declaration form to my landlord and the court. What should I do now? 

The court may postpone making a judgment, but the tenant will still have to pay rent and any fees called for in the lease once the moratorium ends.  

“It doesn't necessarily solve their issue of potentially getting eviction on their record or having a judgment entered against them,” Dyer said. “Really, at that point, it really comes down to money.” 

If a tenant hired a lawyer, their lawyer would attempt to negotiate a payment plan with the landlord and the landlord’s lawyer. If the landlord is willing to work with the tenant, Dyer said, that is one option to resolve the eviction issue. 

If a landlord is unwilling to negotiate, the tenant can take advantage of a Missouri law that Dyer refers to as “pay and stay.” The tenant has the right to pay all the rent that is due and court costs before their hearing. If the tenant pays all the owed rent and court costs but the landlord does not dismiss the case, the court will issue a stay on any execution of judgment, meaning the tenant will not be evicted, Dyer said. 

Tenants at risk of eviction should research rental assistance and legal aid programs in their areas, Dyer added. 

What happens once the federal eviction moratorium ends? 

It will generally go back to business as usual, Dyer said. If a landlord has already gone to court and received the judgment, they can request a writ of restitution from the court and then take that form to the sheriff’s office, who will execute the eviction. 

“Unfortunately, tenants who have already had a judgment entered against them, they're not going to be able to take advantage of that ‘pay and stay’ that I discussed earlier,” Dyer said. “That has to be done before the date of their hearing and they have already had a hearing if a judgment has already been issued.” 

Dyer added there is still time for the tenant to contact a lawyer and try to negotiate with the landlord. 

“If a tenant is able to make a substantial payment or pay it all off, the landlord will be willing to work with them,” he said. “It's really just coming down to the money. There are definitely some landlords hurting from it (the federal eviction moratorium).” 

What are some suggestions tenants should follow? 

Tenants should read their lease agreements as those documents will outline the rights and responsibilities of the tenants and landlords. 

“I always advise tenants to be clear on what their rights and responsibilities are under that lease agreement because nine out of 10 times, just understanding those eliminates a lot of problems,” Dyer said. 

Along with the lease agreement, Dyer said it is critical tenants and landlords document conversations. If a landlord and tenant have a verbal conversation, Dyer added, one party should follow up with an email or letter noting what was stated in the conversation. 

Lastly, Dyer said it is important tenants don’t let issues linger. 

“More often than not, a landlord is willing to work with them but that often goes away if the tenant stops communicating,” he said. “So, I advise that if they are in the process of working with their landlord, even if you can't make the payment you promised to pay, let the landlord know about it. Don't just not pay it and not contact them.” 

To learn more about the federal moratorium, visit the CDC’s website