As Uncertainty Around Virus Continues, Housing Questions Remain

Stephannie Stokes is WABE’s housing reporter. She stopped by WABE's "Morning Edition" and shared her research with the show host, Lisa Rayam. 
Stephannie Stokes is WABE’s housing reporter. She stopped by WABE's "Morning Edition" and shared her research with the show host, Lisa Rayam. 
Credit Pixabay

It’s been a concern since the beginning of the pandemic. As the virus interrupts the economy and people lose their jobs, will they be able to stay in their homes?

More than four months later, the answer to that question is still unclear. Tenants and landlords face a lot of uncertainty.

Stephannie Stokes is WABE’s housing reporter. She stopped by WABE’s “Morning Edition” and shared her research with the show host, Lisa Rayam.

On evictions in metro Atlanta 

“Things continue to be in limbo. Recently, there has been a federal moratorium on eviction cases that affects landlords with government-backed loans. That has expired now. It may be renewed. That’s led to a big decline in eviction cases here. But a big reason why evictions haven’t been happening locally is because a key part of the state’s eviction process has been shut down.

“The court hearings. Courts around metro Atlanta have not been hearing eviction cases since mid-March. As the pandemic drags on… courts like the one in Fulton County have talked about resuming cases… and even published plans for reopening… but the court keeps pushing the date back. Ultimately, the courts don’t want to put their staff or judges at risk of contracting the virus. And that means evictions in many places just can’t move forward.”

Do we have any clarity from eviction courts around metro Atlanta?

“Fulton County has said it won’t hear eviction cases in person until at least November. In the meantime, it does plan to offer virtual cases. But the court is making those voluntary, though. Because many tenants may not have the technology they would need to participate.

“What that means is if tenants or landlords decline virtual hearings, they can delay their case until November. The eviction process is going to vary by county, though. And DeKalb County, Cobb County and Gwinnett County have not ruled out the possibility of holding hearings in August.

“In fact, Gwinnett County right now is planning to start holding some eviction hearings beginning August 5. These would be cases that were filed before the pandemic.”

About the unknowns and how many tenants and landlords are handling the hold on evictions and the uncertainty

“Courts aren’t hearing cases but they have allowed landlords to file eviction lawsuits. Which is basically the start of the process. And in Fulton County alone, we’ve seen landlords file close to 3,000 cases. The key point here is that while tenants may not be getting evicted, a lot of people also aren’t getting help with rent. Some still haven’t received unemployment yet. So they’re not paying their landlords.

“I’ve talked to people who are three-four thousand dollars on rent. And that’s just hanging over their head. They may not have to leave their house today. But they’re wondering when that day will come… This isn’t easy for landlords either. And I think as this continues on, we’re going to hear significant frustration from them as well. Landlords have their own bills to pay.

“A lot of advocates for tenants and landlords agree that if you pause evictions, that has to come with some financial assistance for landlords.”

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