MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Evictions have resumed in Alabama – albeit on a limited basis.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey ordered a halt to evictions in April amid the novel coronavirus outbreak. In addition, renters got protection from overlapping provisions from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Those federal protections remain in place for people who are in taxpayer-subsidized housing and renters who live in buildings with federally back mortgages. Sgt. John Spivey, who oversees court-ordered evictions for the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office, said landlords with federally backed mortgages have the opportunity for some assistance, as well.
“The theory being, he can get federal relief, he needs to pass it on,” he said.
But the governor’s proclamation expired June 1. That means renters not covered by those federal restrictions now are subject to eviction if they fail to pay their rent.
Spivey said his division has executed 17 evictions since the beginning of the month. That’s down from a pre-pandemic average of 20 to 25 per week.
“We’re way down, and I think landlords and attorneys are aware,” he said.
Officials from the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office said they do not keep track of evictions as a separate category from other civil actions the agency handles.
Spivey said most of this month’s evictions had been in the works since before the pandemic and involve renters with lease violations. Even before the pandemic, landlords were permitted to evict renters for those reasons. Spivey said the Sheriff’s Office executed two of those evictions in May, including of a man charged with setting his apartment on fire.
“I don’t think there’s a judge that would stop that,” he said.
Dev Wakeley, a policy analyst at the advocacy group Alabama Arise, said even with the limitations, evictions statewide are up 70 percent this month over June 2019.
“We’re very far away from a real return to normal. The protections against evictions should be extended for everyone in the state of Alabama throughout the duration of this crisis,” he told FOX10 News. “We’re not to the point where we can resume normal operations. Things simply aren’t what they were a few months ago. And we can’t pretend that they are. It’s needlessly cruel to say that we need everyone to stay at home, and then kick people out of their homes because they can’t pay during a pandemic.”
But Nathan Friedlander, a Mobile lawyer who represents landlords, pointed out that the federal government has provided substantial sums of money to struggling households in the form of stimulus and expanded unemployment benefits. He said many of his clients were dealing with tenants who were not paying even before the outbreak.
“A lot of the smaller clients rely on their rental properties as retirement income or income to live off of,” he said. “A lot of them have mortgages on the properties, so they rely on the income to pay the mortgages. And also, a good part of the rental income for most landlords goes towards maintenance and upkeep of the properties. And the maintenance doesn’t stop just because there’s a delay in paying the rent.”
Going forward, evicting renters figures to be a more arduous process than it was before the pandemic. The CARES Act eviction restrictions expired July 27, but HUD recently extended its protections until Aug. 31.
Friedlander said federal rules requiring an additional 30 days of notice have no expiration date. In Mobile County, judges now require attorneys to file an affidavit on evictions stating that those proceedings are not subject to any restrictions.
It all adds up, Friedlander said, to hardship for small landlords who cannot absorb month after month without rental income.
Wakeley said the federal funds under CARES Act just kept working families afloat. He noted that the expanded unemployment benefits expire at the end of next month.
“And when that happens, people are going to be out on the street, and we can tell this,” he said. “We’ve already got the data to know that evictions are going to increase dramatically. … People are getting kicked out just because they can’t afford it.”
Friedlander agreed that a reduction of federal assistance will lead to evictions. But he said some tenants skipped rent even when they were receiving those benefits.
“One of the things that I see that’s going on is that people seem to view this moratorium as an excuse to not pay rent,” he said. “And what it's gonna end up doing, I think, is create a backlog of evictions.”
Friedlander said the number of houses for sale in Mobile County has plummeted, which has created strong demand for rental housing. He said his clients easily could find new tenants if the could get their non-paying tenants out.
Evictions are costly and heart-wrenching for both sides, Friedlander said.
“An eviction is really bad for the landlord. It’s really bad for the tenant,” he said. “Tenants have to realize that when there’s an eviction, that’s gonna go on their permanent record. … It is bad for the landlord because they have to go through the cost of the eviction to recover the property (and) have turnover expenses.”
Spivey, of the Sheriff’s Office, said an anticipates a spike when all of the protections finally go away.
“Those cases are stacking up,” he said.