Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order Friday that restricts landlords from evicting struggling tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic and provides rent grace periods over the next several months.
The order prohibits landlords from issuing a notice to quit or begin eviction proceedings before July 1, except for serious nuisance, such as harming another tenant or the landlord. Renters are given a 60-day grace period for payment instead of the existing nine-day period. Tenants must notify the landlord they have lost a job, lost hours, lost revenue or face significant increased expenses as a result of the pandemic to qualify for the 60-day grace period.
Lamont’s order also stipulates that if a tenant has paid a security deposit of more than one month’s rent, the tenant can apply all or part of the deposit to April, May or June rent. But the tenant must notify the landlord of the hardship caused by the pandemic.
“During this crisis, these protections will allow residents to stay safe at home, while prohibiting landlords from charging late fees or interest for nonpayment and provide a buffer for the next couple of months,” Lamont said in a statement. “Residential renters need to have added safeguards during times of emergency like this – they have rights and we will see to it that they are protected.”
The measures are a welcome relief for tenant advocates who feared an onslaught of eviction cases when courts reopen. Evictions started prior to the pandemic will proceed as usual.
Erin Kemple, executive director of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, said 850 summary process complaints have been issued to tenants since March 10. In most instances, the tenants have 10 days to answer by appearing in court, but can’t because the courts have closed.
“Only 69 percent of tenants paid rent in April nationwide. That’s only private tenants, not tenants with a subsidy,” Kemple said “We have consistently said there are several different programs for landlords, the mortgage foreclosure moratorium, but there is nothing in place for tenants.”
Last week Lamont announced an agreement with over 50 credit unions and banks in Connecticut to offer mortgage relief to homeowners.
Meriden landlord Ross Gulino agrees with the intent of the executive order but hopes other provisions, such as deferring municipal property taxes and water and sewer bills, are made to help landlords.
“I can understand where they are coming from but landlords have to feed their family too,” Gulino said.
Gulino was also glad to see cases in the eviction process prior to the state shutdown will move forward in the courts.
An earlier order left it up to the municipalities to decide whether to grant struggling property owners a deferment on tax bills. In Meriden, the City Council recently approved granting property owners low-interest loans instead of tax and utility deferments. The loans can be used to pay water and sewer and utility bills.
Kemple said the eviction moratorium on tenants is a solid first step and will prevent increased homelessness, but more needs to be done.
“While it’s good because it stops the eviction process, it doesn’t do anything for tenants who can’t afford to pay the rent,” Kemple said. “It gives us time to determine how to assist tenants.”
Lamont also signed executive orders extending business closures statewide, but allowed food trucks to open for business at highway rest stops.