Texas Supreme Court Offers Assistance to Renters Facing Eviction

October 13, 2020

Legislative News

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On Sept. 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a moratorium order under Section 361 of the U.S. Public Health Service Act. The order temporarily halts residential evictions for nonpayment of rent by a declared “covered person,” as defined by the order. According to the CDC, the order “does not relieve any individual of any obligation to pay rent, make a housing payment, or comply with any other obligation that the individual may have under a tenancy, lease, or similar contract.” The order will be in effect until Dec. 31, unless extended or ended sooner.

To address the CDC’s moratorium, the Texas Supreme Court issued new guidelines on Sept. 17, through its 25th emergency order. For all residential eviction cases, the landlord is required to state on his or her petition whether or not the tenant has filed a CDC moratorium declaration. The order requires citations to include specific language, which gives renters information about their rights under the moratorium, a link for legal assistance and a copy of the declaration form, which a renter must fill out to temporarily halt the eviction. If a landlord has received a declaration, the court may not proceed unless the judge holds a hearing to determine whether the case can proceed and enters a written order detailing why it may continue. The emergency order will expire on Dec 15. More information on the order and about how justice courts are proceeding can be found on the Texas Justice Court Training Center's website.

On Sept. 25, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the allocation of over $171 million in funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The funding will primarily be used to assist individuals who are at risk of becoming homeless due to eviction. The governor’s office said that the funding will allow the Supreme Court of Texas, the Office of Court Administration and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) to work in partnership with local governments and nonprofits and the newly created Texas Eviction Diversion Program (TEDP) to help renters stay in their homes, catch up on missed payments and avoid an eviction on their records.

Specifically, $167 million will go to targeted rental assistance. The remaining $4.2 million will be allocated through the Supreme Court to help the state’s legal aid providers and pro bono lawyers serve eligible Texans during the pandemic. Eligibility for rental assistance under the diversion program will be determined by TDHCA.

In consultation with the governor, the Supreme Court issued its 27th emergency order on Sept. 25, which formally created the TEDP. The order establishes new procedures for landlords and tenants in an effort to avoid eviction for tenants behind on rent. If the eligibility requirements are met, past due rent obligations may be covered in full, and the eviction case dismissed. Furthermore, to reinstate an eviction action that has been abated, the plaintiff must file a motion with the court within the 60-day abatement period and deliver a copy to the defendant. Unless a plaintiff moves to reinstate, eviction cases will be dismissed with prejudice.

The program became effective for pilot counties on Oct. 12 and will become effective for all counties on Nov. 9. Eligibility criteria for rental assistance under the program may be found on OCA's website. The order expires on Dec. 18, unless extended by the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

For additional information on this article, please contact Amy Befeld or Kelsey Bernstein.