Texas tenants watching legal battle over eviction ban

A ruling by a federal judge to strike down a ban on evictions is on hold in federal court after the Justice Department appealed the ruling. 

While the Texas Supreme Court has said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium does not apply, what happens with the federal case will likely still be felt in Texas.

"There has been more than one federal judge to strike down the order saying it is unconstitutional," said Dallas County Justice of the Peace Al Cercone, who said he wasn’t surprised by the ruling.

But even since March 31, when Texas stopped acknowledging it, he still has far fewer eviction cases in his court than before the pandemic. 

One factor could be the Texas Eviction Diversion program. That provides landlords with up to 12 months of back rent and three months of future rent. But it’s only if both the tenant and landlord apply and only if the tenant was impacted by the pandemic. 

"It’s if they either lost job because business shut down or hours cut dramatically they could not pay rent," Cercone said.

Dallas attorney Mark Melton recruited 200 attorneys to help people facing pandemic related evictions. He says there are problems with the eviction diversion program's rollout and claims it is taking too long to get cash into landlords' hands. That leaves tenants in danger of losing their homes. 

"April 1, Texas House issued a report. 176,000 applicants but only 250 checks in six weeks issued. That kind of incompetence has led landlords to lose faith in the system," Melton said.

Melton hopes that landlords will give the program time to catch up.

"If we can be patient with each other, the landlords will get paid, tenants bailed out. We are seeing more tenants back to work, they just don't have the money to catch up the back rent," he said.

The city of Dallas still has an emergency ordinance in place that requires a 21 day notice of eviction, and then an additional 60 days to try to come to an agreement with the tenant. Cercone says the best protection for a tenant is to communicate with their landlord.