Texas Opened Its Eviction Courts – Why You Should Pay For a Lawyer to Go to Court With You

Texas Opened Its Eviction Courts – Why You Should Pay For a Lawyer to Go to Court With You

Jane Meggitt
 | 
Going to court without a lawyer is never a good idea. When it concerns eviction from your Texas rental unit because of back rent owed due to the pandemic, legal representation is crucial. Texas opened its eviction courts before the expiration of the CDC’s national eviction moratorium. Since then, it is fair to say a state of confusion exists.

The CDC’s eviction moratorium began as of September 4, 2020, and was later extended until June 30, 2021. However, the Texas Supreme Court's 34th Emergency Order regarding the pandemic expired as of March 31, 2021. This emergency order applied the moratorium provisions to Texas courts.

Because of one of the weakest state responses to the COVID-19 crisis, thousands of Texas renters now face eviction. If they lived in other states, they would have protections Texas does not offer.

Emergency Order 37
On April 28, 2021, the Texas Supreme Court extended procedures for landlords and tenants for eviction avoidance due to overdue rent. This 37th emergency order dealing with COVID-19 renews the Texas Eviction Diversion Program (TEDP). This voluntary rental assistance program allows eligible tenants and landlords to agree to resolutions involved in the case.

For those eligible, it can mean up to 15 months of the rent owed paid and the eviction stopped. The judge at the tenant’s trial discusses the program with the landlord and tenant. If both parties express interest, the judge delays proceedings for 60 days. Landlord eligibility criteria includes assistance for rent not prior to March 13, 2020. Tenant eligibility criteria includes household income limits and qualifying for unemployment benefits on or after March 13, 2020.  The rental property must be the tenant’s primary address.

CDC Eviction Moratorium
The CDC issued its eviction moratorium to stem the spread of COVID-19. The CDC argued that the pandemic would worsen if people were evicted from their homes because they could not pay their rent, forcing them to live in homeless shelters or group settings.

The order states: “A landlord, owner of a residential property, or other person with a legal right to pursue eviction or possessory action, shall not evict any covered person from any residential property in any state or U.S. territory in which there are documented cases of COVID-19 that provides a level of public-health protections below the requirements listed in this Order.”

The order only covers the failure to pay rent or late fees. Landlords have been able to proceed with evictions stemming from other reasons throughout the pandemic.  The order covers renters who earned less than $99,000, and up to $198,000 for those filing jointly. Renters have to swear under penalty of perjury that they are doing their best to make partial payments. They must also swear that, if forced to vacate, they would end up in a homeless shelter or forced into shared living quarters.  

A federal judge vacated the CDC eviction moratorium on May 5. However, U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich put her own ruling on hold after the Justice Department sought an emergency order. The Justice Department argued that “the harm to the public that would result from unchecked evictions cannot be undone." The stay of the judge’s order on May 14 while the CDC appeals the ruling means the eviction moratorium stays in place until June 30, or until there is another court action.

No Enforcement for Landlord Violations
Attorney Mark Melton, the head of a pro bono group helping tenants fight evictions, told NPR that there has been “virtually no enforcement” against landlords violating CDC orders. Technically, these landlords face considerable fines and potential jail time for such violations, but no price has been paid.

Contact an Attorney

If you are perplexed about the Texas eviction law and how it pertains to you regarding back rent due, you are not alone. Even groups representing landlords appear uncertain about the ruling. That is why obtaining legal advice is critical. You may qualify for TEDP, the Texas Rent Relief program or other assistance.

This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.
 
Jane Meggitt

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