ADDRESSING CLIENTS’ NEEDS DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

December 23, 2020

Since the pandemic began on March 10, landlords have taken steps to move tenants out:

  • Landlords have filed 2,639 new summary process (eviction) cases in court.
  • Courts have issued 646 executions—Once a court issues an execution order, the landlord can hire a state marshal to remove the tenant and their belongings from the unit.

What happened since December 17, 2020:

The Governor extended Connecticut’s eviction moratorium to February 9, 2021: According to reports in the Hartford Courant and Connecticut Mirror, Connecticut’s eviction moratorium has been extended to February 9, 2021, the day the Governor’s emergency powers are set to expire. The Emergency Order has not been published yet, but it is expected to include all the current exceptions. Currently, landlords are permitted to start an eviction action if a tenant:

a) owes rent that was due on or before February 29, 2020;

b) owes six or more months’ worth of rent that was due on or after March 1, 2020;

c) created a serious nuisance; or

d) has a lease that expired, and the landlord has a bona fide intention to use the unit as the landlord’s primary residence;

Congress extends federal CDC eviction moratorium until January 31: On December 21, both houses of Congress passed a new economic stimulus package that extended the CDC’s federal eviction moratorium to January 31. In addition, the stimulus bill contains emergency housing assistance including:

  • $25 billion for emergency rental assistance. Connecticut is expected to get approximately $237 million;
  • The emergency rental assistance funds can be used for both rental arrears, future rent, and utility payments;
  • The assistance can be for 12 months, although funds can only be given in 3 month increments;
  • 10% of the rental assistance funds (about $20 million for Connecticut) can be used for case management or other services which keep a family stably housed.

Advocates Request Courts Stay Executions: Because of the grave effects of evicting tenants and former homeowners from their homes in the middle of a second COVID-19 spike, the Center joined with the Housing Clinic at Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization, part of Yale Law School, to ask the Judicial Branch to stay post-foreclosure and post-eviction executions –physical removals from home – through February 9, the current end of the Governor’s emergency powers. The Judicial Branch has not yet responded.

Researchers estimate 1,500 deaths and 17,000 infections were prevented by Connecticut’s eviction moratorium: The researchers who authored two recent studies that evaluated the effect  of the pandemic on tenants have applied their research to infection rates in states with eviction moratoria. The eviction moratorium in place between March and September in Connecticut which prohibited most landlords from doing anything to begin an eviction case is estimated to have saved 1,500 lives and prevented approximately 17,000 coronavirus infections.

TRHAP program closed: On December 3, DOH closed the TRHAP program to new applications from tenants and landlords in need of assistance. It is not expected to open again before December 31, 2020.

What should tenants do?

Tenants may not be covered by the Connecticut moratorium for various reasons, including that (1) their landlord filed an eviction case before the Connecticut moratorium began on April 10, 2020; (2) they owe rent that was due on or before February 29, 2020; (3) they owe six or more months’ worth of rent due on or after March 1, 2020; or (4) their lease has expired and the landlord has a bona fide intention to use the unit as the landlord’s primary residence.

  • CDC Moratorium: Tenants not covered by the Connecticut moratorium may still qualify for the federal CDC moratorium if they cannot pay their full rent or other housing payments because someone in their household lost income or has very expensive out-of-pocket medical bills. However, the CDC moratorium’s protection is not automatic, and it only extends through January 31, 2020. Tenants should begin by carefully reading the requirements a tenant must meet to qualify for the CDC moratorium. If every person over 18 in the household meets the requirements, then each of those people should fill out a CDC declaration and give each declaration to the landlord. There are also online platforms here and here that can help tenants sign the declaration electronically and email it to their landlord. If the tenant already has an eviction court case, the tenant should also give copies of the declarations to the court. A summary of both the Connecticut and CDC moratoriums is available in English and Spanish here.
  • Remote Court Dates: Courts are scheduling remote trials, hearings, and mediations. Tenants should receive a notice from the court when a court date is scheduled. Tenants can also confirm if they have an upcoming court date by looking up their case on the Judicial website. Once on their case page, they can also sign up for email alerts about their case. If a court date is scheduled, tenants must attend either by video or phone—even if they have already given their landlord a CDC declaration. Tenant should make sure to send their email address and phone number to the email address listed on the court notice so that the court can send them a link to join the meeting via video or phone.
  • Responding to Eviction Papers: Tenants should not ignore eviction papers, filing deadlines, or notices about remote court events. Courts have begun entering Default Judgments against tenants who fail to file forms on time or attend remote court events. Once a Default Judgment is entered against a tenant, the landlord can ask the court for an execution. An execution gives the landlord permission to hire a marshal to remove the tenant. Learn more about the eviction court process here.

Assistance for people without legal status: The State’s rental assistance program for people without legal status is still open. To access this assistance, tenants should contact Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants (CIRI) at 1-203-612-5464 or rentalassist@cirict.org. More program information is available here, and a Spanish-language webinar is available here

211: Additional government assistance may be available through programs administered by local organizations and municipalities. Tenants may call 2-1-1 to confirm what rent and housing assistance is available in their area.

Mortgage Foreclosure

HUD, USDA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac extend foreclosure moratorium:  HUD has extended the foreclosure moratorium for FHA loans through February 28, 2021. The moratorium prohibits lenders from filing foreclosure actions or moving foreclosures forward that have already been filed. The USDA has taken a similar step to through February 28, 2021. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have extended their foreclosure moratoriums through January 31, 2021. The moratoriums do not apply to properties that are vacant or abandoned.

Homeowners have until February 28, 2021 to request a forbearance on FHA loans—Homeowners can still request forbearances if they are unable to pay the mortgage as the result of a loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ability to request a forbearance ends on February 28, 2021.

Judicial Branch is scheduling remote hearings in foreclosure cases:  Since the week of September 14, the Judicial Branch has been scheduling hearings in foreclosure cases where an execution has been requested, a hearing or status conference if necessary, and, in some circumstances, where the foreclosure has not proceeded as quickly as the court would like. If a hearing has been scheduled, the homeowner is supposed to receive notice from court staff providing instructions on how to participate in a remote hearing either by video or phone. In some Judicial Districts, courts are providing only a few days’ notice to homeowners of a foreclosure judgment hearing. On December 17, 2020, the Center sent the Judicial Branch a letter asking that self-represented parties be provided at least one week actual notice prior to any remote hearing. The Judicial Branch is investigating the problems with notice raised by the Center.

Affidavit required for foreclosure filings:  On September 24, the Judicial Branch issued a Standing Order that prohibits any foreclosure action from being filed or moving forward unless the bank or mortgage company files an affidavit stating that the loan is not a federally backed mortgage, is vacant, or is not in forbearance. If the affidavit is not filed with the Court, then the case may be dismissed.

What should homeowners do?

Foreclosure advice: The Center is holding Foreclosure Advice Virtual Sessions. Homeowners facing foreclosure can sign up for advice sessions over video or phone, and get some individualized questions answered in a way that they could at our in-person clinics or through the Judicial Branch’s Volunteer Attorney Program that we regularly staff during non-pandemic times. The program has been used by dozens of homeowners from across the state since it began this summer. Homeowners can sign up, answer a few short questions, and be set up with an appointment. These Sessions are in addition to the considerable number of videos and materials available at www.ctfairhousing.org.

Apply for T-MAP online:  The number of successful applications for the State’s TMAP program remains low. TMAP now has an on-line application in English. It has not yet been translated into Spanish. To apply for assistance by telephone, call 1-860-785-3111. For more information about the program, click here

Social inequities explain difference in infection rates: According to several recently published studies, Black and Hispanic patients with COVID-19 were no more likely than white patients to be hospitalized even though people of color are infected at much higher rates than whites. The higher infection rates are attributed to Black and Hispanic communities and households being more crowded as well as people working jobs requiring frequent contact with others and relying on public transportation. Access to health care is poorer for people of color than among white Americans, and rates of underlying conditions are much higher.

Survey on the campaign for affordable housing:  The Partnership for Strong Communities is working on a strategic planning process for their HOMEConnecticut campaign for affordable housing in Connecticut. They would like feedback from advocates, tenants, concerned citizens, and those who work in housing through the use of a short, narrowly tailored survey. Your thoughts will inform the Partnership’s work to establish key goals and strategies of the campaign. 

Utilities must continue to offer payment plans to customers:  Utilities must now extend the availability of the 24-month COVID-19 payment plans until February 9, 2021. Any customer can call their utility company to set up a payment arrangement. COVID-19 payment plans are:

Importantly, any customer enrolled in a COVID-19 Payment Plan who is current with their payment terms cannot be disconnected even after the shut-off moratoriums have concluded.

We have heard of the following issues: 

  • Court mediators in summary process eviction cases have scrutinized Notices to Quit to ensure that they have the required CDC declaration information;
  • Tenants infected with COVID-19 face being forced out of isolation through their landlords use of a court-issued execution.
  • Local health departments believe they have no ability to do anything to stop the spread of the virus in an eviction case;
  • The attorney for the State Marshal Commission believes that they cannot stop an eviction that has been authorized by a court even if the eviction would spread COVID-19;
  • State marshals report they have removed tenants who are COVID+ from their homes;
  • A state marshal reports that he did not know about the CDC declaration;
  • Clerks’ offices do not allow self-represented tenants to file emergency applications with the court electronically, even if the tenant has COVID-19;
  • Attorneys and tenants are experiencing wait times of over half an hour when they call Superior Court Clerks’ Offices;
  • Landlords and tenants report that they did not know about the TRHAP program, which is now closed until at least December 31;
  • Tenants participating in remote mediations are agreeing to stipulated judgments they do not understand because they cannot read the written agreement on their phones;
  • Tenants who are unable to access the Teams platform used for remote hearings and mediations can only participate by audio;
  • Tenants who are only able to participate by audio are not able to see what is happening and do not know what to do once they connect;
  • Tenants who do not have access to a phone or computer are not given an in-person option, so they are unable to attend.
  • Tenants do not know how to install the Teams app;
  • Tenants do not have enough space on their phones to download the Teams app;
  • Downloading the Teams app takes a very long time, and often the program closes before the full download occurs;
  • Tenants are given only 5 days’ notice of a remote hearing;
  • Tenants are not receiving mail in a timely manner, so they only receive notice of the hearing after they’ve already missed it;
  • Hearing and mediation notices are not translated for people with limited English proficiency;
  • Tenants receive notice of the remote hearing, but the notice does not include the date and time of the hearing;
  • Tenants who receive notice of hearings and mediations do not understand that they must give the court their email address to receive access to the hearing;
  • Tenants in receipt of a court event notice send in their email address as instructed but never receive an email with the link to link to join the meeting via video or phone;
  • Hearing notice emails that include the phrase “do not delete” are deleted once the hearing is accepted;
  • Judges are not asking court personnel if tenants were ever contacted by the Court regarding notice of the hearing;
  • Judges are not determining if the landlord has received a CDC declaration;
  • Mediators are not determining if the landlord has received a CDC declaration;
  • Tenants who have given their landlord a CDC declaration are challenged by landlords who say the declaration is untruthful;
  • When an attorney for the landlord did not show up, the Court called him and allowed him to join the remote hearing late. No calls are made to tenants who do not appear on time;
  • Some marshals refuse to let lawyers and tenants into courthouses to file documents;
  • Some courts fail to provide a means for lawyers and the public to observe hearings.

Outreach:

  • Center staff continue to participate in Facebook Live, community Zoom meetings, and tele-townhalls with legislative officials. If you would like our assistance reaching your constituency, please contact our outreach coordinator rrattray@ctfairhousing.org.
  • Staff continue to hold fair housing trainings and COVID-19 eviction and foreclosure prevention resource workshops via Zoom with social service agencies, direct service providers, community groups, and invested stakeholders. If your agency would find a short resource webinar or fair housing training helpful during this crisis please contact Rashida Rattray, the Center’s Education and Outreach Coordinator, at rrattray@ctfairhousing.org

Resources for tenants and homeowners:

  • here for more information on the Connecticut and federal CDC moratoriums. 
  • here to understand current rights for homeowners in Spanish and English.
  • here to understand how fair housing can protect you during the COVID-19 crisis. (Our guidance is now available in 11 languages.)
  • The Rent Recalculation Request tool can be accessed here in Spanish and English.
  • To sign up for our weekly update fill out the form here.

More COVID-19 resources can be found on our website here.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR FAIR HOUSING RIGHTS IN ENGLISH, SPANISH, MANDARIN, VIETNAMESE, FARSI, RUSSIAN, ITALIAN, KREYOL, ARABIC, KHMER, AND TAGALOG, CLICK HERE.

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