A last-minute extension of a moratorium barring evictions for covid-struck counties is injecting a new layer of confusion for millions of renters who had been on the verge of eviction and aren't sure whether they've gotten a reprieve - and for some, it's too late.
When the nationwide moratorium lapsed on Saturday, some states and cities had allowed courts to process legal filings on behalf of landlords wanting to evict nonpaying tenants. The lapse in the moratorium jump-started that eviction process on Monday when sheriff's offices and courts opened. Indeed, some renters have already been evicted or could still be evicted in the next few days if they don't live in a county covered by the new eviction ban.
Early Tuesday morning, a sheriff rang the doorbell and waited as Brina gathered clothing and medication in duffel bags while her landlord changed the locks in the Missoula, Mont., apartment she'd lived in since 2015. She and her mother, a legal secretary, fell behind on their rent earlier this year after Brina lost her job at Walmart.
"We are living paycheck to paycheck and have no place to go," said Brina, who asked to be identified by a nickname because she fears backlash. "Right now, we're just trying to see if we can get a hotel for the night."
The Missoula County Sheriff's Office confirmed that the eviction took place Tuesday morning.
Brina said the extension of the moratorium was "too little, too late" for those like her who were evicted on Monday and Tuesday. No data is available on numbers of evictions that occurred during the lapsed moratorium; however, The Washington Post talked with landlords, renters and housing advocates in five states who confirmed evictions had happened or were imminent.
However, the last-minute ban appears to be granting a reprieve to some. In Volusia County, Fla., for example, which includes Daytona Beach, sheriff's officers had been preparing to carry out as many as five court-ordered evictions Wednesday. The agency had contacted landlords, asking them to give tenants 24 hours' notice. As the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order took effect, agency officials said Wednesday morning they are no longer proceeding with covid-related evictions, although they are carrying out evictions unrelated to covid. Volusia is considered an area with high levels of community spread.
The CDC announced the new order late Tuesday, citing surging covid cases. It warned a cascade of evictions could fuel the spread of infections. The new ban will expire Oct. 3 and applies to counties that are "experiencing substantial and high levels of community transmission," according to the CDC. The order also said that 80% of counties would be covered for the month, because they are experiencing substantial or high levels of community spread as of Aug. 1.
But lapse in coverage and the new threshold to qualify under the eviction ban created its own wrinkles. The ban is good news for renters behind on payments throughout much of Florida, the West Coast and the South, where the delta variant of the coronavirus has been spreading fast. But the moratorium creates new geographic boundaries for evictions, sending some renters searching their county's level of community spread. While most of the nation is covered by the new eviction ban, there are counties in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York protected from evictions next to counties where evictions can continue, because community spread is considered "moderate."
Housing advocates cheered news of an extension, even if it was narrower than they hoped.
"This is a tremendous relief for millions of people who were on the cusp of losing their homes and, with them, their ability to stay safe during the pandemic," said Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition in a statement on Tuesday. More than 6 million renters had fallen behind on rent, according to Moody's data.
Some landlords, however, expressed mixed feelings. "I would hope there's a provision that would allow renters who exploit the moratorium to be held accountable. Those folks should still be evicted," said Richard Brown, who runs the real estate company Five Eight Holdings and owns 21 rental units in Connecticut, where counties may be covered by the new moratorium. "The moratorium should be in place for families who need it, and are trying to do the right thing."
The stakes are high for some renters who were on the verge of being evicted. Throughout parts of the country, even when the pandemic-era eviction moratorium was in place, it was up to renters to ask the courts to enforce the ban.
Samantha Goddard, who is three months behind on rent, said Tuesday that she and her dog, Nugget, were to be evicted by the end of the week. She wasn't sure if the extended eviction moratorium would help.
The 44-year-old, who lives in Edmond, Okla., had been making ends meet during the pandemic by picking up odd jobs - $400 a month as a research assistant, a few hundred more by taking part in medical focus groups and online surveys. But over the summer, she ended up with a $500 electric bill that set her back. Now she owes about $2,000 in unpaid rent and said managers at the apartment complex where she has lived for five years are preparing to file eviction paperwork.
"It's like I've fallen through all of the holes in the Swiss cheese and am lying on the floor," she said. "Where do I go from here? I don't know."
Goddard applied for rental assistance from both federal and local organizations in June but has yet to hear back about either. Goddard isn't sure where she'll go next. She doesn't have family nearby, and her friends are already stretched thin.
"It's just me, and I have nowhere to go," she said. "I'm just sitting here, waiting to be served eviction papers."
Rajni Shankar-Brown, a professor of social justice education at Stetson University and vice president of the National Coalition for the Homeless, said the new order appeared to be more targeted than an overall extension of the moratorium. "This is truly a massive and deeply distressing crisis, and likely to have multigenerational effects," she said.
In Boca Raton, Fla., Gary Brestle kept an eye on the front door Tuesday, waiting to see when an eviction notice might come his way. Brestle, who lives with his fiancee and her mother, said they fell behind on rent after he got covid in July.
"Today's our last day to somehow come up with $2,000 or lose our home," the 28-year-old said, as he rushed to gather bank statements and pay stubs to complete his application for emergency rental assistance. "We have no extended family. Our car is going to become our home if rental assistance does not step in."
In Mesa, Ariz., Kathryn Tilley, 80, received an eviction notice last week. Since then, she has cleared out her two-bedroom house and put everything in storage while she waits to be forced out of the home she shares with her son and dog.
Tilley, who works part time at a thrift store, was doing fine until July, when her $1,670 social security check failed to arrive. She couldn't pay her $765 rent that month and fell behind on car and insurance payments. She appeared in court on Monday, where the judge ruled in favor of her landlord in a matter of minutes, since she'd missed a rent payment.
Now she's just waiting for the eviction, wondering if each knock on the door means she's being kicked out or whether she'll return from her shift at the thrift store to find that her front door has a padlock, like the one that recently appeared on the unit across from hers - even though the federal moratorium was in place.
"We're scared," she said. "Where are we going to go? I can't afford to buy a house and the prices of rentals are just astronomical."
The cheapest two-bedrooms she can find, she said, start at about $1,400, which is nearly double what she has been paying. She put in an application on Tuesday morning for a house that costs $1,595 a month and is waiting to hear back.
"We're just kind of stuck, waiting to see what happens next," she said. "When I say my prayers at night, I just ask the lord to bless all of us who are in this mess. I know it's not just me."
In Central Florida, Timothy Mikus said he's relieved to be spared, even temporarily. When his gigs as a performance artist and editing for a production company dried up last year because of the pandemic, Mikus, 55, got by through the generosity of friends. With no income, he hasn't been able to afford rent for about a year, relying on the moratorium to keep his home, a room at a hotel in St. Cloud, Fla., where he is a long-term resident.
Mikus applied for emergency rental assistance, he said, but he was denied funding because the name of his residence has the word "hotel" in it. Two weeks ago, Mikus received an eviction summons. "I'm living on pins and needles because I can't get answers from anybody," he said.
Adding to his financial strain, Mikus said he was diagnosed with leukemia in February and, after feeling more run-down then usual, learned Monday that he tested positive for the coronavirus. Mikus said the new moratorium is "temporary relief, for sure."
Shea Mills, 38, got a notice in late July that should have felt like good news - her request for rent relief on her Biloxi, Miss., apartment had been approved by the local homeless prevention agency.
But the notification didn't tell her how much she got and went straight to her landlord. It wasn't enough. Her landlord tacked on late fees and filed for eviction on July 30.
Mills has been unemployed off and on during the pandemic, working at a restaurant that the pandemic shuttered, as a tech support contractor and later as a cabdriver. She tried to pay what she could in rent, but sometimes it didn't cover the full $720 a month, she said. After a while, the management firm stopped accepting partial payments, she said.
Last July, the apartment complex tried to evict her but she fought it in court, citing the moratorium. The judge halted the proceeding until after the moratorium had lifted. Now, Mills said, she feels that familiar sense of anxiety.
After everything, she said, she still might be forced to leave her home with evictions on her record.
"It ain't much, but I live here," said Mills, who moved to the Gulf Coast after a divorce and recovery from an opiate addiction. "What really gets me is I came here to restart and build, and this has been crippling."