NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Anxieties are mounting for tenants who cannot pay rent by Wednesday, April 1.
Thousands of Texans who recently lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19 are still expected to pay rent.
An order from the Texas Supreme Court ensures renters will not be evicted until at least April 19.
Some counties in North Texas have already postponed eviction hearings beyond the April 19 deadline.
Tarrant County suspended eviction hearings indefinitely, while Dallas County pushed the proceedings until May 18.
Collin County has halted evictions until May 8.
The moratoriums buy tenants time while they wait for unemployment benefits, federal stimulus checks or other sources of income. But the order does not absolve renters of their obligation to pay rent.
In fact, Texas renters can still receive eviction notices during this period, even though they cannot be removed from their homes until the order expires.
The eviction moratorium also technically applies to tenants who fell behind on rent before COVID-19, according to Mark Melton, a Dallas attorney who is working to answer renters’ questions about the eviction process.
“I was talking to a lot of people on Facebook last week, and the stories are absolutely heartbreaking,” Melton said.
Melton, along with approximately 50 other Dallas lawyers, is volunteering to answer renters’ questions for free.
The lawyers said anyone with questions can contact them for free at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A common inquiry is whether landlords can still change the locks before the moratorium expires.
“They are legally allowed to change the locks,” Melton said. “However, they are also legally required to put a notice on the door with a phone number that must be answered 24 hours a day. If you call it and ask for a new key, [the landlord] is legally required to bring you the key in two hours.”
The attorney said landlords who do not comply with the two-hour rule could be subject to civil penalties.
Tenants who cannot make rent payments on time should contact their landlord immediately and provide proof of financial hardship due to COVID-19. Ask for assistance in the form of late fee waivers or deferred payment plans.
Property managers are under no obligation to provide help, but the Texas Apartment Association said many companies are trying to work with their renters.
Busboom Group, which operates six properties in North Texas, offers a “pink slip safety net program.” It allows laid-off tenants to break their lease within 30 days notice at no additional charge.
But the company’s president is still urging renters to pay on time. Jason Busboom said those payments are critical to keeping the properties afloat.
“As landlords, we are absolutely responsible for paying our bills,” Busboom said. “We are dependent on residents to pay the rent in order to pay our bills.”
Busboom said those bills include mortgage payments, utility bills, taxes, insurance and vendor agreements.
Rent is just one expense tenants may be juggling.
Financial educator Derrick Kinney said consumers should take inventory of all outstanding bills for the month. Then, prioritize the essential bills, such as housing or car payments.
After that, Kinney suggested tackling the bills that are already past due.
“If I’m behind, [call] the creditors now and [let] them know of a problem in advance so you can work out some kind of game plan so it won’t significantly hurt or affect your credit scores,” Kinney advised.