Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced Wednesday afternoon a moratorium on evictions for the next month, to help residential tenants who can’t pay rent due to the impacts of COVID-19.
It’s the first of the month. For nearly one in three Utah households, rent is due.
The Utah Department of Workforce Services reported nearly 20,000 new claims for unemployment benefits from March 15 to March 21. The industry that saw the highest number of claims was food preparation and serving, with 37% of the claims.
At Wednesday’s COVID-19 update, Herbert declared, by executive order, the ability for residential tenants — not commercial — to defer rent and a hold on landlords serving tenants with evictions until May 15.
“We’ve talked to the courts about this, the apartment association and many others,” Herbert said. “We think this is an appropriate, practical notice to be given at this time, to help give some certainty and eliminate some confusion and apprehension and fear that’s out there in the marketplace today.”
June Hiatt is with Utah Renters Together, a grassroots tenants union working to change Utah eviction policy. On Tuesday, before Herbert announced the eviction freeze, Hiatt said Utahns could have had eviction notices posted on their doors as early as Friday.
“A very real reality for Utah renters right now is housing insecurity could be around the corner,” Hiatt said. “And there’s not a lot of options for renters in Utah.”
Herbert mentioned forthcoming aid from the $2 trillion federal CARES Act, which includes a one-time payment of $1,200 for adults earning less than $75,000 and $500 per child. The package also includes a 120-day eviction moratorium for properties under federal housing programs.
Hiatt says Utah Renters Together is grateful for the order, but the devil’s in the details. There’s also the issue of what happens come May 15.
“I think the governor’s plan is intended to allow time for federal stimulus payments to come through and unemployment applications to be processed,” Hiatt said. “But there is always the problem of being two months behind rent and trying to catch up and so, again, I think this is where the details will hopefully get into what happens on May 15, if economic circumstances are the same or worsen by then.”
The Utah Apartment Association is an advocacy organization for rental housing professionals. Prior to Herbert’s executive order, the UAA suggested renters and landlords work out a rent deferment plan together. The association didn’t recommend a one-size-fits-all policy for landlords across the state, though, recommending each individual landlord create their own policy, requirements and payment plans. Some suggested requirements included tenants proving their income loss is related to the pandemic and whether the renter is considered a “good” tenant.
UAA Executive Director Paul Smith told KPCW the governor jumped the gun on the announcement. Smith says housing stakeholders helped draft the order, and the state agreed to release $5 million in rental assistance to tenants. The tenants would apply for assistance, and landlords would receive checks.
Herbert later clarified on Twitter that the eviction moratorium and rent deferment only applies to tenants whose financial stability has been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak and that renters will still need to pay what they owe to landlords when the order expires.