The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently issued an order to pause evictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is cautioning that the order includes several caveats.
The FTC says the order only protects renters who meet certain criteria and who sign a form and give it to their landlord. But doing so doesn’t rule out the possibility of late fees.
“Landlords can still charge late fees during the temporary relief period,” the agency said.
Additionally, renters who have broken certain terms of their lease still risk being evicted. The temporary order also “doesn’t apply to homeowners facing foreclosure, so contact your lender or servicer for options,” the FTC said.
Finally, the protections don’t apply in cases where the renter lives in an area that already has the same or better eviction protections. The FTC recommends checking local housing policies before counting on being granted protection.
What happens next
The FTC stressed that the relief is only temporary and is set to expire December 31. When that date arrives, consumers should be aware of what comes next if they still can’t pay rent.
After the temporary relief has ended, renters who can’t pay January’s rent should prepare for the possibility of legal repercussions.
“Your landlord can take you to court if you don’t pay,” the agency said. “Even if you don’t have the money to pay the past-due rent, your landlord can ask a judge to force you to pay or have the right to evict you.”
But consumers facing eviction “still have rights,” the FTC said to Consumer Affairs.
“The first step in most evictions is a written notice. Check with your local court system for more details about the eviction process. You also may qualify for free legal services and be able to speak to a lawyer to learn about your rights.”