San Antonio City Council will consider two measures next week that involve giving renters more information about their rights in the eviction process and more time to come up with rent during the coronavirus pandemic.
If approved by Council, one ordinance would require landlords and property management companies to provide tenants a “notice of tenant’s rights” when initiating an eviction process. Failure to provide the informational packet would result in a fine of up to $500.
The other so-called “Right to Cure” ordinance, proposed by Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) and to be placed on the agenda by Mayor Ron Nirenberg, would require landlords to provide tenants a 60-day notice of proposed eviction before even filing a notice to vacate because of failure to pay rent.
“It gives people time to settle on their debts,” Treviño said. “This is not [rent] forgiveness.”
While the notice of tenant’s rights ordinance has received support from community advocates such as COPS/Metro Alliance as well as landlord groups, the Right to Cure was criticized Thursday by representatives from the San Antonio Apartment Association, San Antonio Board of Realtors, and individual landlords.
Nearly half of the approximately 260,000 rental units in San Antonio are protected under an eviction moratorium initiated by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Rental properties that received federally backed mortgages can’t start the eviction process until July 24, which essentially gives tenants in these properties protections until Aug. 23.
“We do have to find a solution that doesn’t allow anyone to fall between the cracks,” Treviño said.
For the other half of renters in San Antonio, the eviction moratorium expires on May 18, though Bexar County judges who hear eviction cases have agreed to pause non-payment eviction hearings until June 1. The moratorium does not apply to eviction filings for other reasons such as criminal activity.
The notice of tenant rights ordinance would require landlords to send a packet of information about next steps, available assistance programs, and information about free legal counsel.
“The Notice to Vacate is only the first step in the eviction process and does not mean you must move out immediately,” according to the proposed packet. “You still have time to resolve the payment of rent due. If you need assistance with making a rental payment the City of San Antonio’s Emergency Housing Assistance Program may be able to help.”
It includes links to resources and phone numbers to call for legal help. Such an initiative was already being worked on by the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department before the coronavirus pandemic to improve awareness of eviction rules, said Assistant City Manager Lori Houston.
Many tenants have mistaken a notice to vacate as an order to leave their home, she said.
San Antonio and Bexar County have implemented $29 million worth of housing assistance programs, but it may not be enough to stave off evictions once a moratorium lifts.
More awareness isn’t a bad thing, but the 60-day notice extends and already-time-consuming eviction process, landlord advocates said, and usually landlords rely on rent to pay for mortgages, property taxes, and property maintenance.
“We know that many in our community have had to stop working to stay safe and healthy, but unfortunately their financial obligations for rent, utilities, and other necessities didn’t stop,” said Teri Bilby, executive director of the apartment association. “Our members, as well as other rental housing providers, have already stepped up to help. They’ve waived late fees, worked out payment plans, restructured leases, and held off on filing evictions for residents who are communicating with them.”
Some have discounted rent for April and are considering another discount for May, Bilby said.
The City should focus its efforts on increasing awareness and funding for its COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program rather than passing sweeping eviction rules, she said.
The $25 million program was established two weeks ago and has already given more than $10 million to families in need of rental, mortgage, utility, internet, and cash assistance. That program expires at the end of July but can be renewed by Council.
“It’s probably not going to be enough,” Bilby said.
The ordinance does not extend mortgage payments that landlords have for 60 days,” said Kim Bragman, chair of the San Antonio Board of Realtors. “[They are] also experiencing the same financial challenges.”
Bragman also said the ordinance could be challenged legally, a costly possibility that Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) said the City should avoid.
Given the budget challenges of the months and years ahead, Perry said, “there’s going to be some tough choices.”
Texas RioGrande Legal Aid researched the legal issues associated with the 60-day Right to Cure ordinance and concluded that it was within the City’s legal authority. Click here to download a summary.
The Texas Justice Court Training Center, which provides guidance for the Bexar County Justices of the Peace who hear eviction cases, has recommended judges to uphold such ordinances as State property code says that notices to vacate must also comply with “other applicable law” unless or until they are superseded by other State laws.
“There’s always a potential for [legal] challenges with anything that City Council does,” Treviño said. So far, a similar ordinance in Austin has not elicited any lawsuits against that city.