Oops – Austin Did it Again

  • The City of Austin once again extended its eviction moratorium.
  • This extension has a monthly step down in requirements that will expire entirely on December 31, 2021.
  • But given the behavior of the City Council thus far, it would not surprise at all if the Council tries to make some aspects permanent.

I cannot believe I have to keep writing this same blog article. But maybe I should just get used to it at this point. Its just very frustrating.

You may have missed the news, but last Thursday, the Austin City Council once again voted to extend its eviction moratorium rules. This despite the fact that most other local areas in Texas have ended their COVID eviction rules.

So why does Austin think it still needs these rules? And what does it mean for property owners? That’s what we are talking about this week.

What Does it Mean For Now?

As I wrote above, the Austin City Council extended its moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent through the end of this year. The current rules are that a landlord may not evict a tenant for non-payment of rent unless:

  • The rent is for more than $2,475 per month or

  • The tenant is at least three months behind in rent. This requirement decreases to more than one month in November and is entirely removed in December.

There are many other technical rules in the moratorium that a landlord must follow before issuing a notice to vacate. This blog entry is not meant to be an extensive look at all of the requirements. For that, please give us a call and we can discuss.

This all remains in effect despite Governor Abbott’s declaration he made a couple of months ago that seemed to nullify all COVID restrictions and rules. As you may recall, in his order, Governor Abbott rescinded all local COVID rules that were put into place during the last year. It seemed like this order would nullify all of the local Austin and Travis County eviction rules. But despite that, the JP Courts have so far treated the local orders as still in existence. So … I don’t know.

What Does it Mean for the Future?

I don’t know about this, either. Austin’s economy is doing very well overall. Unemployment rate is down to about 3.8% as of August. Restaurants and bars are at full capacity. If anything, businesses are having trouble finding people to work.

In addition to its extension last Thursday, the Council also set up another $6.6 million for residential rent assistance for people have difficulty paying their rent. As a result, if you are a tenant who has difficulty paying rent because of COVID, you and your landlord can apply to the City for assistance. Indeed, under these rules, the landlord is required to apply.

Because if this, it sure seems like the justification for the moratorium is no longer valid. The City Council first enacted the justification because people were out of work and could not afford to pay their rent. We, of course, did not want lots of people to be evicted during a global pandemic so the moratorium made some sense.

But that time has passed. If you want a job that will help you pay your rent – there are plenty of jobs available in Austin. Unemployment is low and the economy is booming. And, if you need rental assistance, the City has made it available. So why are we still forcing property owners to continue to house people who do not pay rent?

My only conclusion is that this is what the City Council wants going forward. From the way the restrictions are reduced each month, it does appear that this may be the last formal extension. But I would not be surprised if the Council tries to make some of the restrictions permanent. And, as you can imagine, that may have a tremendously negative effect on the housing market. But I do not know how else you can read the council’s continued extensions of the moratorium any other way.

Assuming that they do try to make some aspects permanent, what is the solution? I guess there are three:

  • Voting the current councilmembers off the dais;

  • Hoping the state steps in again to knock this down; and/or

  • Sue the City.

If the Council continues to act this way, I do not know what other choices property owners in the area will have.

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