Personal Finance

CDC issues sweeping temporary halt on evictions. Here's what that means for renters

Key Points
  • The ban is unprecedented and could prevent some 40 million Americans from being forced out of their homes. 
  • Previous eviction protections during the Covid-19 pandemic pale in comparison to this one, which applies to all U.S. properties. 
  • CNBC spoke to housing experts about some of the most common questions that are likely now on renters' minds. 
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White House and CDC enact renter eviction moratorium

Most renters in the U.S. are now protected from eviction until the end of the year, according to an order announced on Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The ban is unprecedented and could prevent millions of Americans from being forced out of their homes during one of the worst public health crises in history. 

Previous eviction protections during the Covid-19 pandemic pale in comparison to this one, which applies to all U.S. rental properties. 

"This is an extraordinary, wide-reaching order that protects the 30 [million] to 40 million adults and children at risk of eviction right now for non-payment of rent," said Emily Benfer, an eviction expert and visiting professor of law at Wake Forest University.

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The $2 trillion CARES Act that Congress signed into law on March 27 included a ban on evictions from federally financed houses and buildings, but that covered fewer than a third of the country's rental units, and a lack of enforcement led many landlords to ignore the law all together. It also expired at the end of July. 

Some states, counties, towns and cities have locally banned evictions, but this left tenants at the mercy of a patchwork of narrow and temporary protections. Since May, more than 20 states that had passed a statewide eviction moratorium have allowed the proceedings to resume. 

The CDC announcement was released less than 24 hours ago and it remains to be seen if it's challenged by landlord groups. CNBC spoke to housing experts to try to get answers to some of the most pressing questions. 

What does the ban do?

Under the moratorium, between Sept. 4 and Dec. 31, most tenants struggling to pay their rent amid the pandemic cannot be evicted. 

Who's eligible?

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Eligibility can be met in a few ways, Benfer said.

Individuals must either earn less than $99,000 a year — couples, less than $198,000 — or have received a stimulus check. Another way you could be eligible is if you weren't required to pay income taxes in 2019.

You'll also need to attest on a declaration that you're unable to afford your rent despite seeking rental assistance, that being evicted would require you to double up with others or become homeless and that you promise to make partial payments to the best of your ability.

It doesn't appear that documentation will be required.

What do I have to do? 

If renters meet the above requirements, they'll have to sign a declaration and give it to their landlord.

A copy of the declaration should be posted online Friday for tenants to download and sign, Benfer said. 

"If a tenant cannot pay the rent, they should provide the declaration to their property owner as soon as possible," she added.

What if my landlord ignores it?

If your landlord ignores the ban after you've given them the declaration, immediately seek legal help.

Sometimes the paperwork you receive with your hearing date will have the contact information for legal services in your area. If not, you should be able to find your agency online, said Alexis Erkert, a lawyer at Southeast Louisiana Legal Services. 

"The court may also be able to give people contact information," Erkert said. 

You can find low-cost or free legal help regarding an eviction in your state at Lawhelp.org.

What if I'm in the process of being evicted?

The CDC bans "any action to effectuate an eviction for non-payment of rent," Benfer said.

Therefore, if you're in the process of being evicted for that reason, you should now be able to stay in your home through the end of the year. 

What if my state already has an eviction moratorium in place? 

Around 10 states have eviction protections that are even more comprehensive than the CDC's ban, Benfer said.

The nationwide ban doesn't change your local laws, Benfer said. Those are still in place. 

You can find out what local policies apply to you on the Eviction Lab's website

Should I still pay my rent? 

franswillemblok | iStock Editorial | Getty Images

Yes. The CDC's order doesn't relieve you of your obligation to pay rent. You want to try your hardest to keep up with your bills during the pandemic to avoid racking up debt and being evicted come January. 

At Justshelter.org, you can search for community resources for people struggling to pay their rent.

Some states and cities have funds allocated to help people stay in their homes. Arizona earmarked $5 million for that purpose. Residents in Delaware can apply for up to $1,500 in rental assistance. Similar relief measures were made available to those in MontanaOhioIowa and New York.

Look for and apply for any available assistance in your area. 

Meanwhile, many landlords are showing a willingness to work with tenants who ask for payment plans, experts say.