Dear Editor: The CARES Act and tenants

Dear Editor,

The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing financial crisis are dragging basic necessities such as food and shelter into jeopardy for many in Meigs County. In a region where affordable housing has been a scarce commodity for years, these new crises are making housing stability even more precarious.

Fortunately, many counties in the region are addressing these challenges by rescheduling all eviction hearings for future dates when the pandemic will hopefully have passed. In addition to preventing groups of people from gathering in the courthouse and potentially spreading COVID-19, these continuances also preserve housing for people at a time when staying home appears to be our best weapon against the virus.

In counties where the courts are declining to reschedule eviction hearings, tenants should be aware of the limited protections available under the CARES Act, which was recently passed by the federal government. The Act prevents the filing of new evictions for non-payment of rent from federally subsidized housing or housing with a federally backed mortgage. Determining which properties are or are not covered by the Act can be complex, so if you are facing eviction during this public health crisis you should seek legal counsel.

We are hearing many heartening stories of landlords working with tenants to waive rent payments or enter into delayed payment plans, in the hopes that stimulus money and unemployment compensation may be able to step in as wage replacement. If an agreement or payment plan cannot be worked out, tenants should beware of any attempt by a landlord to circumvent the legal process and illegally evict them. A landlord is not permitted to lock out a tenant on their own without a court order, and doing so could make the landlord liable for damages. If a landlord threatens or engages in this type of activity, the tenant should call local law enforcement and seek legal counsel immediately.

If you cannot afford a private attorney, Southeastern Ohio Legal Services in Athens provides free legal representation to low-income individuals in Meigs County, and can be reached at 740-594-3558.

Zack Eckles

Staff Attorney

Southeastern Ohio Legal Services