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Back-Rent Judgments Could Cloud COVID Crisis

Demands are growing to extend more eviction protections for households affected by the economic crisis, as temporary eviction moratoriums have expired at the federal level and in a number of states. (Adobe Stock)
Demands are growing to extend more eviction protections for households affected by the economic crisis, as temporary eviction moratoriums have expired at the federal level and in a number of states. (Adobe Stock)
August 7, 2020

BISMARCK, N.D. - Concerns are growing about a potential wave of evictions in the pandemic and economic crisis.

Legal Services of North Dakota said it hasn't yet seen a spike in demand for assistance in stopping evictions, but another housing-related problem could emerge.

With the eviction moratorium and extra federal unemployment benefits expiring, people who lost their housing might try to scrape together what they can for a new place.

But attorney Brad Peterson - director of special projects for Legal Services of North Dakota - said he feels not everyone fully understood how protections under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act work.

He said tenants who incurred a judgment for back rent could find it's a roadblock when trying to secure new housing.

"Some of these people are going to try and apply for housing assistance in the next, you know, few months," said Peterson. "They're going to be looking at renting from another landlord, and they're going to be told that they have to take care of this judgment."

He said that might result in requests for legal assistance, if the person believes those temporary federal rules might have helped them avoid an eviction. He said it's unclear in legal circles if CARES Act eviction protections can be applied retroactively to eliminate a judgment for back rent.

Peterson said it's possible renters might have automatically assumed the federal moratorium on evictions applied to all tenants. Instead, it only covered people in federally-subsidized housing.

Legal Services of North Dakota filed special court requests to sit in on eviction hearings as a third party, and Peterson said they were able to get the attention of some lawyers who weren't considering the temporary rule.

"We actually got one lawyer that does a lot of eviction work now," said Peterson, "that he's taken it upon himself to start filing these certifications of compliance with the CARES Act."

He encouraged people dealing with an eviction issue, who didn't seek legal help when the protections were still in place, to reach out before they apply for new housing.

The federal moratorium expired July 24, but the 30-day window for eviction notices remains in effect for a couple more weeks.

Disclosure: Legal Services of North Dakota contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues, Native American Issues, Poverty Issues, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - ND