Yesterday, KEJC filed suit against a landlord in Louisville (.pdf) because (we allege) the landlord did two things that violate the law.
First, the landlord charged late fees to a Kentuckian in violation of the CARES Act. This landlord participates in HUD's Housing Voucher program and, as a participant in that program, the landlord is prohibited from charging late fees to people living in "covered dwellings" during the eviction moratorium. Second, the landlord's employee told our client that "evictions are still being sent over to the courts" on April 22nd. The problem with this statement is that, pursuant to an April 1, 2020 emergency order from the Kentucky Supreme Court, courts in Kentucky hadn't been accepting eviction filings for three weeks when the landlord's employee made the claim. Moreover, the CARES Act prevents this landlord from filing an eviction for nonpayment of rent during the global pandemic. Our client, Ms. Katrice Gill, is a single mom with four kids. She's rented her home from this landlord for three years. She works as a home health worker, but is unable to work right now because she lost childcare as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because she can't work, she can't pay rent. Our lawsuit is a class action and seeks an Order requiring the landlord to return any late fees it collected from its tenants in violation of the CARES Act along with an Order requiring the landlord to reverse its unlawful charges and correct its misinformation, along with actual damages, punitive damages, and attorneys' fees. What I want renters to understand:
If you live in "covered dwellings", your landlord is violating the law if they're charging you late fees;
Regardless of whether you live in a "covered dwelling" (as defined by the CARES Act), you cannot be evicted right now in Kentucky; and
If you can afford to pay rent right now (and meet your family's other basic needs), pay rent. Nothing in the laws and orders says you don't have to pay rent.
Here are answers to renters' frequently asked questions about their rights and protections during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Yes, we explain more about what a "covered dwelling is in the FAQs.)
And, if you want help writing a letter to your landlord to let your landlord know you can't pay rent right now, we have a tool to help you with that. What I want landlords to understand:
It is your obligation and duty to learn whether the properties you own or manage are "covered dwellings" under the CARES Act;
Because any dwelling with a mortgage backed by the federal government (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA) is a "covered dwelling," sometimes it's not as easy to tell as it is in Ms. Gill's case that a property is a covered property;
If you charge late fees to a Kentuckian in violation of the CARES Act during a global pandemic when 1 in 3 Kentuckians is out of work, you're asking to be sued; and
If you misrepresent your ability to file an eviction to a Kentuckian during a global pandemic when 1 in 3 Kentuckians is out of work, you're asking to be sued.
The safest thing to do is be chill and kind during this very difficult time. Don't charge late fees. Don't threaten eviction when you know damn well you can't file an eviction.