The end is near for the eviction moratorium that has been in place since the start of the pandemic.
On July 15, Vermont courts will allow pending eviction actions to go forward, meaning tenants can be ordered out for nonpayment of rent or for other reasons.
Some tenants, in cases where a court had already ruled in favor of the landlord, could be told to leave 14 days after Vermont's state of emergency ends, said Grace Pazdan, an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid. With COVID-19 infection rates low, and with 80 percent of Vermont's eligible population at least partly vaccinated, the state of emergency is due to expire Tuesday at midnight.
A national eviction moratorium, established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is due to end June 30.
It’s not clear how many people will be affected by the end of the eviction moratorium, which occurs when the state is also scaling back a program that provides motel housing for the homeless. Renters have been told during the pandemic that despite the moratorium, they were still accountable for paying rent, Josh Hanford, the state’s housing commissioner, said during Gov. Phil Scott's regular COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday.
“I don’t think this is a surprise; this has been in the works for months,” he said. He noted that Vermont has received millions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief money to help people pay their rent during the crisis.
More than 20 local agencies are helping renters with translation services, landlord-tenant mediation, and the technology needed to apply for aid, Hanford said. Vermont Legal Aid has received extra money this year to help prevent evictions, he added.
“We feel we have the resources in place to help folks," Hanford said.
Housing advocates and lawyers have complained that the rental assistance process has been slow, hindering efforts to prevent eviction actions from being filed.
Although Congress passed the program last December, the U.S. Treasury spent months creating the rules for it, and the Vermont Housing Authority didn’t start publicizing the new $100 million federal grant program until May 17. The program is for renters who lost income as a result of the pandemic.
"The moratorium was lifted sooner than we expected or hoped," said Pazdan, who added that she is helping people who are stymied by a slow and balky application process. "I am talking to really scared and stressed clients every day."
Asked how many people will be affected by the end of the moratorium, Hanford said he didn’t know. In a normal year, courts see about 600 eviction actions, he said.
“I don’t believe it’s a tsunami coming,” Hanford said. “I believe folks have been preparing for this.”
Scott added that lawmakers this year approved a plan to spend $130 million of the federal coronavirus relief money to build new affordable housing. “There's more work to do in this area,” Scott said. “But everyone's working cooperatively and building units as fast as possible.”