Starting Friday, nearly all renters in San Antonio and Bexar County will be protected against eviction if they can’t pay their rent through the end of the year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced this week.

The nationwide eviction moratorium, ordered by the Trump Administration as an attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19, applies to renters who expect to earn $99,000 or less this year and no more than $198,000 for joint tax returns.

View the order here.

Renter advocates celebrated the unexpected ban but noted that the moratorium will only delay a wave of evictions to 2021, and it’s unclear how the order will be implemented.

The rent will still be due, according to the order, and other fees and interest included in lease agreements can still be added to the bill. Residents can still be evicted for other violations or criminal activity.

The CDC rule requires tenants who are seeking protection to sign a sworn declaration stating that they are using their “best efforts to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing” but are unable to pay because of a significant blow to their income or “extraordinary” medical expenses.

The City of San Antonio set up a more than $50 million housing assistance fund during the coronavirus pandemic that has helped about 14,000 households so far. There is about $3 million left.

Residents must also swear that eviction would lead them to homelessness or to “live in close quarters in a new congregate or shared living setting.”

A false statement made on the declaration could lead to prosecution of residents.

“This declaration is sworn testimony, meaning that you can be prosecuted, go to jail, or pay a fine if you lie, mislead, or omit important information,” according to the declaration included in the order.

Juan Narvaez, a member of the Texas Organizing Project who has experienced eviction firsthand, welcomed the moratorium.

“For tenants who qualify, the CDC’s order preventing evictions brings some much-needed peace of mind,” Narvaez said in a news release. “However, we don’t know when this pandemic will be over or when the economy will recover. Families still need long-term financial relief that will keep tenants from falling into a debt trap on January 1.”

The order also may leave out undocumented families, he said. “As a father who has been through eviction court before, I know that no one deserves to go through this stressful experience, especially during a pandemic.”

The order does not address how landlords and property owners will shoulder the impact. Previously, they were allowed to apply for coronavirus relief funding, but it’s unclear how or if the federal government plans on bailing them out.

Selina Lazarin, president of the San Antonio Apartment Association, said the association’s members are “deeply concerned” with the halt on evictions.

“Without a federal infusion of direct rental assistance, both renters and those who house them are going to be facing an unprecedented financial crisis,” Lazarin said in an email. “As rents continue to go unpaid, property owners will be unable to maintain properties and pay mortgages or property taxes, which help fund many community services. This reckless action risks creating a cascade that will further harm the economy, amplify the housing affordability crisis, and destroy the rental housing industry and the thousands of jobs it supports.”

The rental housing industry shouldn’t bear the blame or financial responsibility of the economic crisis, she said. “San Antonio’s leaders have bravely led the nation in its drive to provide critical support to its citizens by providing much-needed rental assistance, but without additional federal dollars in rental assistance, their ability to help renters is seriously compromised. We need balanced, reasonable solutions for all Americans.”

During a City Council meeting on Thursday, City Attorney Andy Segovia said the ban is not retroactive so could not be applied to eviction orders that have already been processed.

The City is looking into ways to supplement enforcement of the federal order, Segovia said.

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) suggested that the declaration be made available in Spanish.

“We certainly can develop one that matches what the CDC declaration is [in Spanish],” Segovia said. “If the content is the same, it should have the same legal application.”

The City will be working with Texas RioGrande Legal Aide and other partners to make sure those on the brink of eviction are aware of the moratorium and declaration, said Assistant City Manager Lori Houston.

They will enhance those efforts in areas of the city where there are increased rates of eviction filings, Houston said, “so they know their rights.”

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@sareport.org