Houston

Houston Begins Eviction ‘Grace Period’ Giving Renters Impacted By The Pandemic More Time To Pay

It’s the first time the city has passed an eviction protection policy for renters during the pandemic.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner at a press conference announcing additional rent relief funding in July 2020.

Houston City Council on Wednesday unanimously passed an eviction “grace period” ordinance for the first time during the pandemic, similar to measures that have been in place in cities like Austin and Dallas for nearly a year.

More than 24,000 eviction cases have been filed in the Houston area since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to just over 850 cases in the Austin area, according to the Eviction Lab.

The city ordinance is set to expire on March 31 and is intended to give some renters impacted by the pandemic more time to catch up on rent and apply for the city of Houston and Harris County’s new $159 million rent relief program.

The city is extending protections only to renters who are covered by the federal CDC eviction order, who give a printed CDC declaration form to their landlord — a significant move given that the federal order isn’t protecting most renters, stopping only 10% of evictions in the Houston area.

Under the ordinance, a landlord is prohibited from evicting or initiating, in any way, any eviction proceeding during the six weeks it’s in effect, though cases can still be filed in the event of property damage or a tenant who threatens the health or safety of others. Landlords may not post a notice to vacate if renters are covered by the CDC order.

The CDC order and the Houston grace period both protect renters who meet five criteria. They must:

  • Have an income of $198,000 or less for couples filing jointly, or $99,000 for single filers.
  • Demonstrate they have sought government assistance to make their rental payments.
  • Affirmatively declare they are unable to pay rent because of COVID-19 hardships.
  • Affirmatively declare they have used best efforts to make timely partial payments if possible.
  • Affirm they are likely to become homeless or be forced to move into close quarters in a shared living setting if they are evicted.

The city’s grace period took effect immediately, and it expires on the date the CDC order is currently set to expire, though some housing experts believe the federal order is likely to be extended.

The ordinance specifies that it will expire on March 31 regardless of whether the federal order is extended, though Houston City Council could vote to extend the grace period.

Despite broad support from many Houston City Council members and members of the public, and a unanimous recommendation from the city's and Harris County's joint housing stability task force, Turner has kept a grace period ordinance off the agenda until now. But at a Feb. 10 council meeting, Turner announced plans to propose the measure, hoping to reduce evictions during the time the county and city are working to distribute the latest round of $159 million in federal rent relief funding.

The long-awaited measure was celebrated by some Houston housing advocates who have been pushing the mayor to pass a grace period ordinance for nearly a year.

“With millions of Gulf Coast residents suffering without power through freezing temperatures, the catastrophic failure of our state government to prepare is yet another reminder of the critical need for local action to keep our neighbors safe,” read a statement from Jay Malone, political director for the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation. “We're thankful to Mayor Turner and the City Council for passing this ordinance today, and look forward to continuing our work with the city to strengthen and extend protections and keep all Houstonians housed.”

The ordinance passed by a unanimous vote without discussion from council members Wednesday and with little public comment, amid a power outage that has crippled the state.

Many members of the public and council members struggled to connect or participate in the virtual council meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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Jen Rice

Reporter

Jen Rice is the City Hall reporter at Houston Public Media, where she covers topics like Houston City Council and housing. Jen was born and raised in Houston's 100-year floodplain. She graduated from Barnard College at Columbia University and has a master's degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs...

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