As eviction hearings continue during the COVID-19 pandemic and some tenants lose their homes for non-payment of rent, a local judge says relatively few people have taken the necessary steps to remain in their homes under a CDC-led nationwide eviction moratorium.
“We’ve had, in this court, at least maybe between 20 and 25," said Nueces County Justice of the Peace for Pct. 1, Place 2 Henry Santana. "It’s not that many. Many people are not aware of what’s available to them."
Others don't qualify. There are seven stipulations listed on a document called a "declaration" that a tenant must sign and give to their landlord in order to be protected under the moratorium.
A tenant must meet all seven stipulations. If a landlord believes a tenant is not keeping up their end of the deal, they can request a hearing before a judge such as Santana.
"The judge will hear their testimony and decide whether -- through their testimony or any evidence -- (whether) they are to be evicted or not,” Santana said.
So far, Santana said he hasn't presided over any such hearings.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established the eviction moratorium on Sept. 4 as renters across the country continued to struggle with COVID-19-related hardships.
Job loss or wage cuts are one of the seven stipulations for qualifying for eviction protection. All seven are listed here.
Santana hopes more tenants become aware of the moratorium. He thinks it's possible that some people who've been evicted in his court didn't know about the program, but might have met the stipulations for its protection.
“That would be my opinion," he said. "Really they could have had that opportunity. We’re restricted on how much information we allowed to share with tenants, as well as landlords.”
The moratorium is set to expire Dec. 31. It's unclear what will happen at that point.
“They may want to extend this (moratorium)," Santana said. "They may just not want to. It may be just what the circumstances are at that time with the coronavirus and the severity as it exists now in our nation.”