Landlords, Tenants Fill Courts as Eviction Moratorium Ends

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -
Luis Vertentes, a tenant from East Providence, R.I., stands before Judge Walter Gorman during an eviction hearing, Monday, in Providence. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Gabe Imondi, a 74-year-old landlord from Rhode Island, had come to court hoping to get his apartment back. He was tired of waiting for federal rental assistance and wondered aloud “what they’re doing with that money?”

Hours later, Luis Vertentes, in a different case, was told by a judge he had three weeks to clear out of his one-bedroom apartment in nearby East Providence. The 43-year-old landscaper said he was four months behind on rent after being hospitalized for a time.

“I’m going to be homeless, all because of this pandemic,” Vertentes said. “I feel helpless, like I can’t do anything even though I work and I got a full-time job.”

Scenes like this played out from North Carolina to Virginia to Ohio and beyond Monday as the eviction system, which saw a dramatic drop in cases before a federal moratorium expired over the weekend, rumbled back into action. Activists fear millions will be tossed onto the streets as the Delta variant of the coronavirus surges.

The Biden administration allowed the federal moratorium to expire over the weekend and Congress was unable to extend it.

Historic amounts of rental assistance allocated by Congress had been expected to avert a crisis. But the distribution has been painfully slow: Only about $3 billion of the first tranche of $25 billion had been distributed through June by states and localities. A second amount of $21.5 billion will go to the states.

More than 15 million people live in households that owe as much as $20 billion to their landlords, according to the Aspen Institute. As of July 5, roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. said they faced eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

For some tenants, getting assistance has proven impossible.

After her landlord refused federal assistance to cover $5,000 in back rent, Antoinette Eleby, 42, of Miami, expects an eviction order within two to three weeks. She is sending her five children to live with her mother in another county.

“My main concern is that now that I have an eviction, how will I find another place? Some places will accept you and some will not,” said Eleby, whose entire family got COVID-19 earlier this year.

Around the country, courts, legal advocates and law enforcement agencies were gearing up for evictions to return to pre-pandemic levels, a time when 3.7 million people were displaced from their homes every year, or seven every minute, according to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University.

Some cities with the most cases, according to the Eviction Lab, are Phoenix with more than 42,000 eviction filings, Houston with more than 37,000, Las Vegas with nearly 27,000 and Tampa more than 15,000. Indiana and Missouri also have more than 80,000 filings.

While the moratorium was enforced in much of the country, there were states like Idaho where judges ignored it, said Ali Rabe, executive director of Jesse Tree, a nonprofit that works to prevent evictions in the Boise metropolitan area. “Eviction courts ran as usual,” she said.

That was much the way things played out in parts of North Carolina, where on Monday Sgt. David Ruppe knocked on a weathered mobile home door in Cleveland County, a rural community an hour west of Charlotte.

“We haven’t seen much of a difference at all,” he said.

He waited a few minutes on the porch scattered with folding chairs and toys. Then a woman opened the door.
“How are you?” he asked quietly, then explained her landlord had started the eviction process. The woman told Ruppe she’d paid, and he said she’d need to bring proof to her upcoming Aug. 9 court date.

Ruppe, who has two young sons, said seeing families struggle day-after-day is tough.

“There’s only so much you can do,” he said. “So, if you can offer them a glimmer of hope, words of encouragement, especially if there’s kids involved. Being a father, I can relate to that.”