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Housing issues affect everyone in Connecticut, from those who are searching for a safe place to live, to those who may find it increasingly difficult to afford a place they already call home.WNPR is covering Connecticut's housing and homelessness issues in a series that examines how residents are handling the challenges they face. We look at the trends that matter most right now, and tell stories that help bring the issues to light.

The State Ban Has Expired - Here's Where Residents At Risk Of Eviction Can Turn For Help

Unite CT volunteers help Maribel Nieves (right) of Bridgeport apply for rent relief after suffering from job loss due to the pandemic.
Joe Amon
/
Connecticut Public Radio
UniteCT volunteers help Maribel Nieves (right) of Bridgeport apply for rent relief after she suffered a job loss due to the pandemic.

A statewide freeze on most residential evictions expired June 30. And advocates at the Connecticut Fair Housing Center are worried about the more than 130,000 tenants who owe rent. 

 

The eviction moratorium was enacted when the pandemic began as a safeguard for residents who might have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis and were experiencing financial hardship. 

Gov. Ned Lamont established Connecticut’s ban prior to the federal eviction moratorium, enacted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September 2020. 

 

The CDC’s goal has been to keep people housed nationwide and out of crowded settings like homeless shelters. That protection, which was set to expire June 30, was extended until July 31 by the Biden administration. But it’s expected to be the final extension. 

 

Together both bans have kept eviction cases to a minimum. Since March 15, 2020, for example, 6,470 eviction cases have been filed in Connecticut, according to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab records. The average filings during that same timeframe in Connecticut in previous years was more than 25,000. 

 

Now, without the statewide ban, property owners can file new eviction cases. 

 

“What we know is true and worrisome is that tenants often don’t know their rights to the legal eviction process,” said Melissa Marichal, a staff attorney with the Connecticut Fair Housing Center. “These notices are very intimidating and have very quick-moving deadlines, and once an eviction case is started, it creates a record in tenants’ names, and it makes finding new housing more difficult.”

 

What were the key differences between the state and federal ban? 

 

The now-expired state eviction moratorium was automatic. It prohibited property owners from serving a Notice to Quit, the initial eviction notice, unless the case met one of four exceptions: 

 

  • A tenant owed six or more months of rent due on or after March 2020.

  • A tenant owed rent that was due prior to February 2020.

  • A tenant committed a serious nuisance.

  • A tenant’s lease ended and the landlord intended to move into the unit as a primary residence.

 
On the other hand, the CDC’s federal eviction ban is not automatic. 

In order for households to receive protection under the national ban, every individual 18 or older in the household must: 

  • Review the CDC Declaration;

  • Sign the declaration;

  • Give the declaration to the landlord; 

  • Keep a copy of the signed declaration.

 
It’s important to note that the protection is only for those who cannot pay full rent because they have lost income. Applicants must meet all requirements to qualify. 

 

And while Connecticut housing advocates are grateful for the continued federal protection until the end of July, they warn that it's not user-friendly and has let a lot of people fall through the cracks. 

 

“We’ve seen a lot of people that never knew it existed or aren’t able to navigate the requirements,” said Marichal. 

 

Marichal said the multiple steps can be daunting. 

 

“What it all means is that it’s not a very strong protection because tenants need to know that the protection exists, they have to meet a number of very narrow requirements,” Marichal said. “And then it’s up to the court to decide if they think the tenant qualifies during their case. And only then will the case be postponed until after the moratorium is up.”

 

How is the state providing relief to those who can’t pay rent? 

 

In March, Connecticut unveiled UniteCT -- the state’s rental assistance program for those who earn 80% or less of the area median income. The completely online program is funded by Connecticut’s share of more than $400 million from Congress to help cover unpaid rent in the state. The program covers up to $15,000 in rent arrearage and $1,500 in electricity bills for eligible individuals. The only caveat is that both tenants and landlords must participate in the application process to access funds. 

 

Of the 20,080 applications currently submitted, nearly 7,000 lack participation from one party as of July 6, according to the Department of Housing Dashboard. 

 

In addition to state assistance, tenants at risk of eviction may also get additional aid from some cities in Connecticut.

 

The city of New Haven introduced the Coronavirus Assistance and Security Tenant Landlord Emergency Program, or CASTLE, for those experiencing housing insecurity due to unpaid rent. 

 

The program is for residents of New Haven only and funds up to $3,000 in back rent.  

 

So with the state ban expired, what other protections are in place for people at risk of eviction in Connecticut? 

 

Despite thousands of people at risk of eviction, Gov. Ned Lamont said he let the ban lapse because he thought it was the right time as the state reopens and people get back to work. He told Connecticut Public Radio that he also understood the challenges most landlords faced during the pandemic. 

 

“Most of them are small business guys and they have maybe six or eight units, and they have to make sure they can get through,” Lamont said. 

 

However, he didn’t leave tenants without some protections. On June 30, Lamont signed Executive Order 12D, which includes the following: 

 

  • Property owners must submit an application to UniteCT before serving a Notice to Quit due to nonpayment of rent. 

  • Tenants must be given an appeal period of 30 days.

  • All eviction notices must be delivered with information about UniteCT and the federal CDC eviction moratorium in both English and Spanish. 

  • If an application to UniteCT is approved, the eviction case must be stopped until payment is made and the eviction case is then dismissed.

 
When does Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order on UniteCT expire? 

As of now, it expires July 20 -- the same day his pandemic-related emergency powers are scheduled to end. 

What’s the aim? 

The hope is to forestall as many evictions as possible while distributing relief funds during these next three weeks. The state has approved additional funding to increase Department of Housing staff, eviction mediators and court staff.

However, in a recent blog entry by the director of operations of the Fair Housing Center, advocates are skeptical that the program will successfully distribute all of its funds.  

Since launching in March, UniteCT has distributed only about 6% of total funds and approved only about 11,000 cases. 

Where can I find more information about UniteCT?

Here and at any UniteCT Mobile Resource Bus stop. The bus is part of the program’s initiative to reach people who may lack access to technology. 

 
 

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