Co-published by our media partner, The Dallas Weekly
In the state of Texas, if a tenant is late paying rent, the landlord has a legal right to evict.
“There’s no protection in Texas law for that,” says Sandy Rollins, executive director of the Dallas-based Texas Tenants’ Union. “It’s a default on the contract when you don’t pay on time.”
That’s why District 7 Councilman Adam Bazaldua, who represents South Dallas, crafted a new city ordinance that gives tenants extra time to come up with the money during the COVID-19 pandemic, with so many people experiencing job and income loss.
The ordinance city council passed unanimously on April 22 is “not about free rent,” Bazaldua says. “It is meant to act as a legal buffer that is consistent for all tenants.”
“The only thing someone needs to do in order to use this resource made available to them is communicate to their landlord or management company in writing that they have experienced financial hardship during this pandemic,” Bazaldua says.
A letter, an email, even a text message works, he says. As long as a tenant has some sort of paper trail that shows an effort to reach out to the landlord within 21 days of rent being due, “the time clock has then extended to 60 days” to make the payment, Bazaldua says.
Bazaldua originally brought the ordinance before council during its April 1 meeting, hoping to impact renters who already were experiencing financial loss from the novel coronavirus. Mayor Eric Johnson sent the draft ordinance to an ad-hoc COVID-19 committee for review, and the delay left more renters vulnerable, Rollins says. Dallas County Justice of the Peace courts, which handle eviction cases, are closed during the pandemic, so Dallas landlords can’t file eviction hearings but, until April 22, they could still send standard eviction notices to their tenants.
“We’ve heard from people who absolutely aren’t working with tenants,” Rollins says. “Notices went out even prior to April 1 that if you don’t pay us, we’ll evict you when the courts reopen.”
As of April 12, 87% of tenants in Apartment Association of Greater Dallas properties had paid their rent, says Jason Simon, the association’s director of government affairs. Compared to April 2019, that percentage is down, Simon says, and he doesn’t have firm numbers yet for May but foresees “a pretty precipitous drop off.”
The association represents 2,800 properties in 11 North Texas counties, a total of roughly 580,000 rental units. Its rent payment statistics “don’t capture some of the lower socioeconomic areas in the city” like South Dallas and West Dallas, Simon says, because those areas have more independent, mom-and-pop property owners who don’t use the property management software that compiles such data.
The association opposed the city ordinance because of federal and state protections already in place through the summer to protect renters during the COVID-19 crisis. A Dallas ordinance “duplicates efforts” and “adds to the chaos,” Simon says.
Bazaldua says critics of the ordinance argued that “this is just a heyday for renters to not pay rent,” but he believes that people who find themselves facing the inability to pay “are not only there because of circumstances beyond their control; they are probably there for the first time ever.”
“I’m really confident that the majority of people understand their responsibilities, and if they’re able to pay their rent, they’re going to pay their rent,” Bazaldua says. “Nobody wants to be put on the streets in the middle of a global pandemic.”
In addition to the eviction ordinance, the city created a fund with $13.7 million in federal and local dollars that would give residents up to $1,500 a month for up to three months to help pay mortgage payments, utility bills and rent. Pre-screening opened Monday morning on the city’s website, which was overwhelmed by more than 13,000 applications.
“This has exposed many more people to what the poor have experienced for so long,” Rollins says.
The Dallas ordinance is in place only until the city lifts its state of emergency declaration, but Rollins hopes its impact will have a ripple effect. The Texas Tenants’ Union has “a long list” of state bills they want to see pass, and “the opportunity to cure default has been on that list for decades,” she says. “No one has introduced a bill in recent years.”
“I do hope that this issue has raised awareness on how much this is needed on an ongoing basis, not just in a pandemic,” Rollins says. Roughly 43,000 evictions were filed in the state of Texas last year, she says, and “it would be a serious step forward to enable people to get their rent paid over time.”
Pre- and post-coronavirus eviction timelines
Landlords may choose to work with tenants who can’t pay their rent on time. The Apartment Association of Greater Dallas encouraged its members to waive late payments, freeze rent and forgive rent for tenants who could show some kind of financial impact because of COVID-19, says Jason Simon.
Legally, however, Texas landlords have the right to evict tenants because of a late payment. Here are two potential scenarios, with and without the Dallas ordinance in place.
Before Dallas’ COVID-19 eviction ordinance
April 1: Rent is due.
April 2: If the rent payment is not made, the landlord gives an eviction notice.* The tenant must pay or vacate within three days. If the tenant does neither, the landlord can file an eviction case with a Justice of the Peace to force removal.**
After Dallas’ COVID-19 eviction ordinance
May 1: Rent is due.
May 2: The landlord sends the tenant a COVID notice of possible eviction and outlines the tenant’s right to respond within 21 days and defer payment up to 60 days.
May 23: By this date, the tenant must send the landlord a letter, email, text or other written communication showing job loss or financial hardship due to COVID-19.
May 24: If the tenant doesn’t make an effort to communicate with the landlord, the landlord gives an eviction notice.
June 30:If the tenant communicates with the landlord, the May 1 rent payment is due.
July 1: If the rent payment is not made, the landlord gives an eviction notice.* The tenant must pay or vacate within three days. If the tenant does neither, the landlord can file an eviction case with a Justice of the Peace to force removal.**
*July 24: The end of the 120-day federal eviction moratorium, when landlords of properties covered by the federal CARES Act can give a 30-day eviction notice to tenants who haven’t made rent payments on time.
**Aug. 23: The first day tenants living in properties protected under the federal CARES Act can be evicted.