Navigating the eviction relief labyrinth

by Wade Rathke

Saturday, September 5

Eviction resistors in NYC, Sept 1, 2020.

Pearl River   All of the headlines read that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) had directed no evictions for the rest of the year. Before we do the happy dance, it’s best to read the fine print, because there is a lot of it. For those force fed the biblical traditions in their youth, you might remember, and for others welcome to the story, how difficult it is for a rich man to get to heaven, another story in that tradition. Reportedly, it would be easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle. That’s a mental picture not soon forgotten! Remember that as you read the details on not being evicted, because you may come to believe it might have been easier to crawl through the eye of a needle as well.

Income at first glance seems not to be the issue. Couples can make less than $200,000 and individual’s less than $100,000 in something called “expected income.” If you’re waiting at the dock for your ship to come in, make sure the load is less than these figures. If you received a stimulus check with a letter from President Trump earlier in the year, you should qualify on this score automatically.

Initially, I read that you had to have lost income because of Covid-19. It seems that if you can establish “substantial” decrease in household income or “extraordinary” out-of-pocket medical bills, defined as over 7.5% of your adjusted gross income, you’re good to go on this count.

Here’s a kicker though. The CDC order is not a rent relief, amnesty, or a moratorium. It claims to be eviction relief, which is a big difference. You have to be making your best effort to pay your rent in a timely fashion with partial payments as near the full bill as your fixed expenses will allow. I can already hear the office phones ringing off the hook in a couple of weeks when tenants are being evicted for nonpayment and didn’t understand they needed to treat the landlord like a layaway and put something down every month and on the due date.

That’s not all of course. Even if you hit the marks so far, you also have to prove that you would be homeless, forced into a spot even more expensive and past your budget, or squeezed into an overcrowded situation where Covid-19 might be your roommate.

Make it through all that and maybe you might be in the clear, but your landlord can be the devil in these details, given how subjective many of them are, and toss you out, claiming you aren’t qualified. At that point, heaven was a dream, and you are now in housing hell.

The CDC suggests you write a declaration of sorts, kind of a self-certification so you will be ready for war. Advice in the Times suggests you get ready for housing court or find a lawyer. We must be talking about some high-end evictions in some fine cities, because most of this advice won’t make it for the vast majority of tenants being pushed towards the street.

Oh, and just to be crystal clear, come January 2021, if you managed to make it with your landlord through this year, you will still owe all the rent that you didn’t pay, maybe with interest and penalties.

The landlord who violates the CDC order, technically, could be subject to up to $100,000 in fines and one year in jail or both, and that’s if no one dies from the virus in which case the fine could be $250,000. I’d have to see that to actually believe it.

Might be easier to watch that camel try to crawl through the eye of a needle. Good luck!


Wade Rathke is founder and chief organizer of ACORN and ACORN International. You can find Wade’s recent past posts here Chief Organizer Reports. And you can link to his website here Chief Organizer ACORN/ACORN International.

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