Evictions: What happens if you have not been able to pay your rent during the pandemic? (Updated)

By Verónica Carbajal

Beginning in March, a number of orders were passed to protect tenants from becoming homeless during the pandemic.  Some of those orders have expired.  Below is an explanation of the eviction process during the pandemic.

Evictions

Self-help evictions are not allowed in Texas, even if you only have a verbal agreement to rent. This means that a landlord must follow a court process before a tenant is physically removed (i.e. evicted) from a rental.  The landlord is not allowed to change the locks on your door permanently or turn off your utilities or otherwise interfere with your ability to live in the rental. If your landlord has tried to force you without following the steps below, you can call the non-emergency police number: (915) 832-4400; you can request a remedy with your Justice Court or contact Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid at 1-888-988-9996, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday (COVID19 hours).

Evictions require the following steps:

  1. Landlord gives a written notice (minimum of 3 days unless the written lease provides for less time).
  2. Landlord files a lawsuit in Justice Court.
  3. Tenant is served with the lawsuit.
  4. A hearing is held. Tenants have a right to trial by jury.
  5. If the tenant loses, they have 5 calendar days (count weekends and holidays) to file an appeal with the Justice Court.
  6. Tenant must pay one-month’s rent into the Justice Court registry within 5 days of appealing and continue paying rent into the court each month until the case is heard in County Court.
  7. A hearing is held in County Court.
  8. If the tenant does not appeal and/or doesn’t pay into the court registry and/or loses at County Court, a writ of possession will be issued and the tenant and their belongings will be removed within 24 hours.

Evictions during the Pandemic

Landlords covered under the federal CARES Act

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law on March 27th.  The CARES Act prevents landlords in certain properties from even beginning the eviction process until July 25, 2020.  These landlords cannot charge late fees either. 

This includes:

  • Public housing
  • Project-Based (Section 8) housing
  • HUD-subsidized housing
  • Tax credit or “LIHTC” housing
  • Tenants who use a “Section 8” voucher or “Rural Development” voucher
  • Other property covered by VAWA
  • Landlords with federally backed mortgages including:
    • HUD (including FHA)
    • USDA
    • VA
    • Fannie Mae (try and call 1-800-232-6643 to check)
    • Freddie Mac (try and call 1-800-373-3343 to check)

While tenants will know whether they have a Section 8 voucher or live in public housing owned by the government, few will know about their new rights under the CARES Act, and far fewer will know whether they live in the other properties covered by the new law.

TRLA and its partners developed a map so tenants can search to see if they live in multi-family properties covered by the CARES Act. 

https://www.trla.org/housing-covid19

Tenants who live in properties with federally backed loans can call Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, Inc. for more information.

All other landlords

The Texas Supreme Court had a moratorium that expires on Monday, May 18, 2020 and requires landlords to  “state that the premises are not subject to the moratorium on evictions imposed by Section 4024 of the CARES Act.”  The El Paso Justice Courts signed an order on May 19th that states:

  • Eviction citations (when you’re served with a lawsuit) will not issue until June 15 (unless it’s for imminent threat or set before this order)
  • Eviction hearings will not be set until June 22th (unless they were set before this order)
  • Writs of possession that were pending before the TXSC orders may issue

Please remember that to remove you, a landlord has to file a suit, serve you with the suit, have a hearing and then get a writ of possession if you fail to appeal or appeal but then don’t pay one month’s rent into the court.

For more information:

We hope that instead of filing evictions, landlords will work with any tenants who have fallen behind on rent by waiving late fees, granting forbearance and establishing affordable payment agreements. If you still have questions, visit our website for more information, resources, and more at www.trla.org.   

For legal advice, call our hotline, which is open from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (CST) Monday – Friday: (888) 988-9996.

Verónica Carbajal is an attorney and Group Coordinator (Community Preservation and Empowerment) at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. (TRLA).  TRLA provides free legal services to people who cannot afford an attorney in 68 southwestern counties including the entire Texas-Mexico border.