On March 25th, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear issued Executive Order 2020-257. As part of the emergency effort to contain the spread of COVID–19 in Kentucky, the Governor suspended all evictions within the Commonwealth. The suspension is in effect until the Governor issues another Executive Order ending the suspension.
Paragraph 5 of the Order reads,
Evictions Suspended. Pursuant to the authority vested in me by KRS Chapter 39A, evictions within the Commonwealth are suspended, and all state, county, and local law enforcement officers in the Commonwealth are directed to cease, enforcement of orders of eviction for residential premises for the duration of the State of Emergency under Executive Order 2020-215. No provision contained within this Order shall be construed as relieving any individual of the obligation to pay rent, to make mortgage payments, or to comply with any other obligation that an individual may have under tenancy or mortgage.
The Kentucky Equal Justice Center is a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization that works across the Commonwealth on issues affecting people experiencing poverty. We are providing this information for the public’s benefit at a time of crisis. While we are all united in our efforts to prevent COVID–19 from spreading further, each of our circumstances are different. If you are having trouble paying rent or have another problem with your landlord, please seek actual legal advice from an attorney who can advise you on your specific situation. What’s right for you may not be right for someone else. At the end of this post, you’ll find resources for legal assistance.
Why did the Governor suspend evictions?
Governor Beshear ordered a suspension of evictions because—even in normal times—evictions cause massive disruption in peoples’ lives. Now (during the pandemic), disruptive evictions create an even greater risk to public health and safety than they normally do. It is not safe or even possible for people to move, seek new housing, and run all the errands necessary to transition to new housing during this pandemic.
I lost my job or lost hours. I can’t afford rent or food or health care. What help is available to me?
KEJC is maintaining a list of programs that may help you get the food, health care, and money you need during this crisis. Please apply for as many as you can and understand: programs are changing almost every day in order to help more people during this crisis. If you don’t qualify for a certain program this week, you need to check again in coming weeks.
Do I have to pay rent?
Yes. The Governor’s Order explicitly says you are still obligated to pay rent. The Order only means that landlords cannot evict renters for the time being. If the Governor lifts the Order in two months, if you haven’t paid rent for two months, your landlord can file a court action to evict you and also file a lawsuit against you for the rent you did not pay (plus late fees and other costs) and potentially the balance of the rent payments you owe under the lease. If at all possible, pay your rent.
Do I have to pay late fees?
Yes. If your lease agreement includes late fees and you pay your rent late, your landlord can charge you late fees.
Do I have to pay utilities?
Yes. If your lease agreement requires you to pay utilities, you still need to pay utilities. If your utilities are included in your rent payment, your landlord must provide those utilities to you, even if you cannot pay rent right now. Note: some utility companies in Kentucky have promised not to shut off services during the crisis.
What do I do if I can’t pay rent?
Maintaining a good relationship with your landlord during this time of hardship is important. Or, at minimum, clearly communicating with your landlord is in your best interest. If you are going to have a hard time paying rent in the coming months, you should tell your landlord 1) why you can’t pay rent, 2) what steps you’ve taken to find money to pay rent, 3) what your plan is to pay rent eventually.
You should communicate this information in a way that you can document what you told your landlord. If you send a letter, send it certified mail. If you send an email, save a .pdf of the email. If you send a text message, take a screenshot of the text message after you’ve sent it. If you have a conversation with your landlord, you can record that conversation. (Note: in some states it is illegal to record a conversation unless both parties know the conversation is being recorded. In Kentucky, it is legal to record a conversation as long as one party knows it is being recorded.)
What do I do if my landlord tells me to move?
Everybody is stressed right now. Just like you’re stressed about paying rent, your landlord is probably stressed about making a mortgage payment, or paying employees, or whatever: maybe your debt-free, greedy landlord is just stressed about not making as much money as he or she normally does.
If your landlord tells you to move out, tell your landlord that you are not going to move until it is safe to move. Right now, it is not safe to find new housing and move into that new housing. The Governor has told every Kentuckian to remain at home to slow the spread of COVID–19.
You can also take this opportunity to tell your landlord what your plan is for catching up on rent payments.
What do I do if my landlord locks me out? Moves my stuff to the curb while I’m at work?
This kind of conduct is illegal (absent an eviction order) even under normal circumstances. Call the police. Take pictures. Take video. Narrate the video with what happened. What you see. Then, call a lawyer.
What do I do if law enforcement officials are helping the landlord move my stuff or supervising the process?
That shouldn’t happen. The Governor’s Order explicitly says so. Show them the Governor’s Order. Tell them this shouldn’t be happening. Take video (if it’s safe). Then, call a lawyer.
What do I do if my landlord shuts off my water? Electric? Cable? Internet?
Call the utility company and see if it will restore service. See if you can get the service put in your name.
Call a lawyer. (Sorry, solutions to a utility shut-off problem will depend on the facts of your situation, including where you live in the state and what utility you’re deprived of. No easy answers.)
What if I’m living with an abusive partner and I need him or her out?
Governor Beshear’s Executive Order about evictions does not affect your right to get a Domestic Violence Order (DVO) from a judge ordering your abuser to vacate your rented home or apartment. For help with this, please contact the legal aid organization in your area.
What if I want renters to have more and better protections in Kentucky all the time, not just in a pandemic?
Whether you’re a renter or not, you can sign up for action alerts from KEJC to learn about opportunities to take action locally and in Frankfort to secure better protections for renters across Kentucky.
How do I find legal help?
Legal Aid Organizations
There are four Legal Aid organizations in Kentucky. Legal Aid firms exist to help people who do not have enough money to hire a private attorney for their civil matter. You can find out what organization serves your area by searching for your city here. If you live in Louisville or the surrounding counties, you will likely be served by the Legal Aid Society. Legal Aid of the Bluegrass serves northern, northeastern, and central Kentucky. AppalReD Legal Aid serves eastern and southern Kentucky while Kentucky Legal Aid works in western Kentucky.
Lawyer Referral Services
Many areas have lawyer referral services run by the local bar associations. They are a good resource to consult to begin trying to find an attorney in your area. If you get referred to an attorney and he or she can't help, I encourage you to ask him or her if they know any attorney (or attorneys) who might be better suited to help you.
Louisville Lawyer Referral Service (this serves surrounding counties, as well)
Northern Kentucky Lawyer Referral Service
Central Kentucky Lawyer Referral Service
Two legal organizations that may have members in your area are the National Association of Consumer Advocates and the Kentucky Justice Association. Both can likely help you get a start in finding an attorney in your area to review your case. NACA's website has a "Find An Attorney" feature that helps you find a consumer lawyer close to you. The Kentucky Justice Association has a similar search feature for people seeking an attorney.