NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) — An emergency order from the Texas Supreme Court states eviction hearings and proceedings can move forward starting Tuesday.
While the statewide moratorium on evictions started in March, landlords were still able to submit filings for eviction cases.
More than 1,100 new eviction petitions have been filed in North Texas since Mar. 16, according to public information requests filed with justice of the peace courts in Denton, Tarrant, Collin and Dallas County.
Four courts in Dallas were unable to fulfill requests due to low staffing or challenges posed by remote working.
But the numbers represent the beginning of what both landlords and housing advocates predict will be an avalanche of eviction cases filed as a result of the pandemic.
“This is very disappointing and disheartening at this point,” said Christina Rosales, the deputy director of Texas Housers, an affordable housing advocacy group. “I am very surprised that any human being thinks it’s ok to start the process of displacing another human being.”
Rosales said tenants should be given more time to pay rent, especially as the number of state unemployment claims nears 2 million.
Dallas City Council passed an ordinance last month that gives renters more time to respond to eviction notices.
But many cities have not created extra protections for renters. Landlords argue they, too, are struggling to pay the bills during the pandemic.
“I think it will probably be a day of reckoning for landlords and tenants,” said Christopher Fluegge, director of operations for the National Landlord Association.
Fluegge is also a landlord who is based south of the Metroplex.
More than 20% of tenants have fallen behind on rental payments since COVID-19 first hit, according to Fluegge.
He said landlords are trying to get ahead of the case backlog that will inevitably hit many courts this week.
“Landlords are typically put out there as a bad guy in scenarios like this when, in fact, most are running small businesses trying to make ends meet,” Fluegge said. “They’re not getting a lot of adjustments from financial institutions…. the banks are calling them for payments.”
Reese Sommone is one of thousands of tenants who is already facing eviction.
Sommone said her hours as a home health nurse were significantly cut due to COVID-19. Her landlord filed an eviction petition against her on May 6 after she fell behind on rent.
She said she was able to pay April’s rent, but now she’s behind for May.
“This is real out here. Ain’t nobody want to get kicked out, get their stuff thrown out, wondering where they’re going to go,” Sommone said. “It’s a crisis going on. People got to understand this, people losing jobs, losing hours, folks ain’t working.”
While hearings may resume this week, eviction orders cannot be executed until May 26. That means the earliest a renter can be physically removed from their home is May 27.
Sommone fears that process could soon start for her. Until then, she is asking for work and mercy.
“I think there should be a lot more compassion,” she said. “And we need more help because the situation is bigger than anything.”
Sommone’s landlord did not respond to requests for comment.
Landlords can always dismiss eviction petitions if tenants make the necessary payments. In fact, at least 20 cases have been dismissed in North Texas since March.
There are exceptions to the emergency order.
Under the CARES Act, renters could be subject to a federal eviction moratorium if they live in properties backed by federal mortgages or in apartments that are federally subsidized.
Petitions filed between Mar. 27 and July 25 must include a sworn petition stating that the premises are not subject to the federal eviction moratorium, which ends Aug. 23.