Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
New Mexico residents still have legal protection from evictions prompted by unpaid rent, even though a federal eviction moratorium ended Saturday.
The fallout for Chaves County renters should the state moratorium end in coming weeks is uncertain, as one local housing official says he has talked with families asking for help who say they owe thousands in back rent while the owner of an affordable apartment complex in Roswell contends that he hasn’t seen a big problem with unpaid rent and welcomes any move that will allow landlords to collect rent due.
“I don’t have a bunch of delinquent rents right now really in any property,” said Adam Trubow. “And, as a whole, it was definitely an exception if tenants didn’t pay rent” during the past year.
He and his partners own the Pueblo de Chamisa apartment complex on South Pennsylvania Avenue and several other residential rental properties in the state. For the most part, he said, his tenants have worked hard to pay all or a substantial portion of their rent each month.
The recent change in the federal moratorium situation developed after the U.S. Supreme Court indicated in June it would not extend the COVD-19 eviction moratorium expiring Saturday that had been enacted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September 2020 and renewed three times after that. The first moratorium was actually created by Congress as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act in March 2020. The moratoriums are meant to safeguard public health during the pandemic, a time when many people were out of work.
Support Local Journalism
Subscribe to the Roswell Daily Record today.
Support Local Journalism
The CDC issued its moratorium when the CARES provision elapsed, and the Biden Administration most recently renewed it in June, saying at that time that the courts probably would not allow another extension and that Congress should act.
Some congressional leaders in the House of Representatives worked Friday to pass new legislation, but no bill was able to advance by press time.
In New Mexico, the state Supreme Court issued two orders in March, one for mobile home renters, and the other for renters of other residential units, to prevent legal efforts to collect unpaid rent or evictions due to nonpayment. Those orders state that they remain in effect until the court ends or changes them.
A U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey for the week of June 23-July 5 determined that somewhere between 21,311 to 56,748 people over age 18 in New Mexico are at risk of eviction or foreclosures. Another survey based on Census Data published July 26 by a division of LendingTree found that 34.2% of New Mexico renters said they were at risk of eviction, with the national average being 25%.
Chris Herbert, executive director of the Eastern Regional Housing Authority that is based in Roswell but oversees federal housing assistance programs in 12 southern and eastern New Mexico counties, said most of the people in the area receiving federal housing vouchers are paid up on rent, with only a few tenants reporting being behind by a small sum, “a few hundred dollars.”
But he added that he has received calls from renters in the Roswell area asking for assistance and guidance.
“I am aware of several cases where people have called and ask what they can do,” he said. “One said he owed more than $4,000.”
From talking to those callers, Herbert said, he knows it will be “rough on several families in the area” whenever moratoriums end because the court orders do not forgive the amount of rent owed. The moratoriums also do not prevent evictions for other causes than inability to pay rent.
Several federal and state rent assistance programs have been made available. One, the New Mexico Rent Assistance Emergency Program, sometimes known as Rent Help New Mexico, was funded with $170 million to provide assistance with rent and utilities and is administered by the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration. The spokesman for the department did not respond by press time to a request for information about whether funding remains available.
Many people have complained about the difficulties getting rental aid. A July 2 report by the U.S. Treasury Department acknowledged that only $1.5 billion of the $45 billion federal aid provided by the federal Emergency Rental Assistance program had been disbursed by states or their cooperating agencies by the end of May, an amount that various news agencies have reported had risen to $3 billion by July 21.
Trubow, the owner of the Roswell apartment complex, also said that getting rental assistance proved difficult.
“Rental assistance isn’t as advertised,” he said. “It is fairly hard for tenants to get, to jump through hoops and to go through the time.”
He also said that some tenants refused to apply for the assistance programs, tying his hands.
Trubow said he thinks the moratoriums created an inequitable situation for property owners, who he thinks deserve the right to collect rents and “control their properties.”
“There should be safeguards that are put in,” he said, “but when so many strings are dangled over to go get rental assistance and it doesn’t come in time and landlords have to make mortgage payments — they are still on the hook to provide hot water and utilities for their tenants. It was really hard.”
He called the end of the moratorium a “welcome sign.”
He said he didn’t need mortgage relief for his properties, but found that most of the times he and tenants tried for state rental assistance they were unsuccessful. The few people who were approved by the state program sometimes had to wait months for the money. He said tenants had more success working with local community groups that provided rental assistance.
According to information posted on the New Mexico Supreme Court website, renters will receive formal legal notice if a landlord has started an eviction process and renters will be able to appear before a court before any removal action can occur, a process that often takes weeks. Some counties in the U.S., including Bernalillo County in New Mexico, have started landlord-tenant mediation programs to deal with eviction cases likely to come as moratoriums end.
Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at email@example.com.