(KSLA) — While not everyone will become ill during this coronavirus outbreak, nearly everyone will feel some financial hardship during the crisis.
And with more than 73,000 people filing new unemployment claims last week in Louisiana, many now face the real possibility of not having enough cash to make April’s rent payment on time.
In recent days, KSLA News 12 has received numerous messages over social media, phone calls and emails from tenants worried that their landlords may try to evict them for missing rent in April or May.
And while courts are closed in Louisiana and the federal government is preparing to send stimulus checks to millions of people, plenty of residents still are confused and worried that they may be sent packing by their landlord and become homeless during the COVID-19 crisis.
Following is a transcript of their conversation ...
Cameron: I’m joined now by Keyshawn Hill. She is the executive director of the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center. Mrs. Hill, thanks for joining us this afternoon.
Let me get right to it and ask you this question. We’ve had a lot of viewers in recent days reach out to us, sending us messages by email and social media, concerned that come April 1, they’re not going to be able to pay the rent because either they’ve lost their job due to coronavirus or they’ve gotten sick during the outbreak.
Is that going to happen? Are people going to be evicted and homeless by the end of this month due to this crisis if they can't pay rent?
Hill: Well, we know that eviction courts have been suspended across the state until at least April 30. The federal stimulus bill that was recently passed also prevents evictions until July 25 for most rentals. And that bill also prohibits late fees.
So right now, you know, it’s not legal for any landlord to threaten eviction or to attempt to evict anyone.
And if folks are experiencing that in the Shreveport area, then they should call the attorney and or legal services line. And that number is (318) 222-7186.
Cameron: We’ll put that number that you just gave up on the screen for our viewers at home.
Let me ask you this, a lot of the people who are reaching out to us are doing so because they had a note placed on their door over the past couple of days telling them, reminding them in some instances very sternly, that your rent is due April 1 even after the stimulus bill was passed. If people get that note but they don’t get a knock on the door or call, should they still feel worried? Should they still reach out?
Hill: Well, you know, that note, that is illegal, frankly, and something that cannot be acted upon. And so people should definitely feel free to reach out for legal assistance.
You know, the point that you make, though, is very important. We need to be clear that these moratoriums and suspensions on evictions and foreclosures, those are really only temporary solutions. Renters who have lost their jobs and incomes are going to struggle to be able to catch up. And so the relief bill includes a one-time payment.
But we know that people have recurring expenses. And so unless Congress is going to greatly expand emergency rental assistance and provide that kind of help, we unfortunately expect to see a wave of evictions once the courts open back up. And so we need to be thinking about this as more than just a temporary solution. There’s a need for long-term emergency rental assistance.
Cameron: That’s because even if there is a moratorium on evictions right now, be it through the middle of April or until July, these rents that come due in April, for example, and in May, if this is still going on, are eventually going to be due. You’re going to have to pay that rent bill under your lease one way or another at some point in the future.
Hill: Exactly. And so there are still options if you’re a renter. You know, let your landlord know whether you’ve lost income or job.
And ask them to consider waiving any late fees.
Ask them to, you know, consider waiving your monthly rent if they receive a forbearance on their mortgage payments.
Or at least, you know, create a payment plan that would allow you to catch up as a renter for landlords. This is really the opportunity for landlords to be a partner in this fight. By waiving late fees.
Cameron: Let me ask you about that other side of the coin — the landlord. That’s another part of the story because some of them are smaller landlords who may only have four or five properties. But even the corporate landlords have mortgages themselves to pay. They have bills on their properties for maintenance and utilities that need to be paid. There’s an important story to be here told for them, too. What’s their rights in this situation right now?
Hill: Well, you know, I think that question really highlights the need to understand this as a need for systemic changes. Right. So we know that if individuals have lost their incomes and they can’t pay their rent and, you know, the landlord may have an issue paying the mortgage. But, you know, we really should be thinking about how landlords and tenants can actually work together and, you know, ask for a solution from Congress. It’s actually going to benefit everyone and fix the problems that everyone, you know, is going to have as a result of this.
Cameron: For one of our viewers or several viewers who might see this, they’re not getting a threatening call or a knock at the door or a letter from their landlord, but they cannot pay rent. They know this on April 1. What’s the best course of action for them to take right now today?
Hill: Have a conversation with their landlord and begin to let them know. You know, again, we know that, you know, some landlords are going to be receiving forbearance. And so they may be willing to partner with tenants and waive those late fees or forgiving rent or, you know, passed down the benefit of the forbearance. But they are going to receive where they may be in a position to be able to offer a repayment plan. But it is important for tenants to know that evictions in the state are currently suspended and that any threat to evict is illegal.
Cameron: Mrs. Hill, thank you so much for your time, as always. And please stay safe and healthy and take care of your family.
Hill: Thank you. Same to you. Take care.