The current Covid-19 public health emergency has created a patchwork of federal and local laws that have significantly changed landlords’ rights regarding tenants who fail to pay their rent. First, and foremost, both federal law and D.C. law have restricted landlord’s right to file new eviction cases for nonpayment of rent. As Battino & Sokolow reported on March 28, 2020, the federal government passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES ACT), which placed a 120-day moratorium on filing eviction cases against renters living in single-family and multifamily properties financed by federally backed mortgages (i.e., Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Department of Urban and Housing Development [HUD] loans) and renters living in federally assisted housing. See CARES ACT, § 4024. CARES ACT also prohibits landlords who (1) receive a mortgage forbearance and (2) whose property contains 5 units or more, from evicting tenants. See CARES ACT, § 4023. For further information on the CARES ACT, see HUD Guidance on CARES Act and evictions; CARES Act Landlord Mortgage Forbearance; CARES Act and DC Real Estate Litigation. In short, if your property is linked to the federal government, you are likely prohibited under the CARES ACT from filing a nonpayment of rent case until mid-July at the earliest.
D.C. Council may have further limited all D.C. landlords, whether subject to the CARES ACT or not, from initiating new eviction cases for nonpayment of rent. On April 7, 2020 D.C. Council passed the COVID-19 Supplemental Corrections Emergency Declaration Resolution of 2020 (D.C. Supplemental Act). Importantly, the D.C. Supplemental Act greatly expands the protections offered by D.C. consumer protection laws. Debt collectors cannot initiate a lawsuit to collect a debt from a debtor while D.C. is in a state of emergency and for 60 days thereafter. See D.C. Act 23-286 § 207(b). Unfortunately, the D.C. Supplemental Act is written so broadly that these restrictions could be applied to landlords seeking rent, as rent is generally considered a debt. Accordingly, filing new nonpayment of rent cases against tenants may be prohibited by the D.C. Supplemental Act, though it would be Battino & Sokolow’s position that a case only seeking possession of a property, and not a money judgment, may not fall within this prohibition.
A debt collector is also prohibited from initiating communication with a debtor during the emergency. See D.C. Act 23-286 § 207(b). The D.C. Supplemental Act does allow “original creditors” to communicate directly with debtors, which seems to indicate that property owners may communicate with their tenants. See D.C. Act 23-286 § 207(b). There is ambiguity here as to whether third parties, such as management companies, are running afoul of this law by contacting tenants regarding outstanding rent. Again, perhaps the distinction between seeking the monetary debt and possession of the premises will be legally significant. However, property managers acting on behalf of owners should exercise caution when communicating with tenants regarding any rent, or other fees, they may owe while the D.C. Supplemental Act remains in place.
The D.C. Supplemental Act created other rights for tenants, which are outlined below:
- A recipient of a mortgage deferral must reduce the rent charged on a qualified commercial or residential tenant in proportion to the reduced mortgage amount paid. A qualified tenant is a tenant who notifies the landlord they are unable to pay all or portion of rent due to the emergency. The tenant must repay the rent owed within 18 months, or the end of the lease term, whichever occurs first. See C. Act 23-286 § 202.
- All time periods for tenants and tenant organizations to exercise rights under the Rental Housing Conversion and Sale Act of 1980 are tolled until the end of the emergency and for 30 days thereafter. See C. Act 23-286 § 203.
- Tenant notices of intent to vacate upon the expiration of a lease provided prior to the emergency are tolled. See D.C. Act 23-286 § 203.
- A rental increase is null and void if it is: effective during the emergency or 30 days thereafter, provided during the emergency, or provided prior to but takes effect during the emergency. See D.C. Act 23-286 § 203.
- All time periods for tenants and tenant organizations to exercise rights under the Rental Housing Act of 1985 are tolled until the end of the emergency and for 30 days thereafter. See D.C. Act 23-286 § 203.
- All rent increases are prohibited during the emergency and for 30 days thereafter. See D.C. Act 23-286 § 203.
If you have any questions regarding the CARES ACT, or the D.C. Supplemental Act, please contact our office at 202-269-3333 or email Aaron Sokolow at firstname.lastname@example.org, Vivianette Velazquez at email@example.com, or Morris Battino at MBattino02@gmail.com.