HOUSTON - Rent is due again this Friday, May 1. Since the Texas Supreme Court extended the stay on eviction hearings through May 18 this week, Harris County Judge Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Turner are now asking the Court to extend it August 24. They want the pause to match the freeze on eviction hearings on federally funded mortgages and rent.
Lone Star Legal Aid says landlords in the Houston area have filed for 4,476 eviction hearings since March 23. They say that's seven times the amount filed during the same period last year.
Standoffs between landlords and tenants behind on rent are getting intense.
"Notably, landlords cutting off electricity to try to force tenants out and locking them out," said attorney Nick Whittaker with Lone Star Legal Aid.
Locking a tenant out is illegal without a court hearing.
Whitaker says tenants can go to the Justice of the Peace to let them back in or turn the lights back on.
Landlords are allowed to give tenants who haven't paid rent a notice to vacate. If the tenant does not move out, the landlord can then file for a court eviction hearing.
"After May 18th, starting May 19th, Justices of the Peace may have constables serving notices of eviction hearings," explained Whitaker.
Then renters need to ready their case.
"They can look at TexasLawHelp.org. That's a website for legal information for people representing themselves, but if possible, I do recommend talking to an attorney," said Whitaker.
Meantime, the Houston Apartment Association and its members have donated $130,000 in rental assistance being managed through the Alliance of Community Assistance Ministries (https://acamweb.org/our-network/).
HAA President-elect John Boriak said many property managers are accepting payment plans with tenants.
"Reach out to your property manager ahead of time and communicate as much, as often as possible. There's been some great collaboration between those two parties to create win-win solutions to keep people in their homes as long as possible," said Boriak.
HAA says it is also working with the City of Houston to present a federally funded rent assistance program to City Council next week.
Governor Abbott and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs announced last week Texas will provide HOME Tenant Based Rental Assistance. Up to $11.3 million will be available to current TBRA administrators in coming weeks who will then distribute the aid to qualifying Texans.
Renters can also search Help for Texans for rental assistance providers in their area by clicking Long Term Rent Payment Help and entering their city or county.
Renters can also dial 211, the United Way Helpline, for rental assistance programs. And HAA offers a list of resources here: www.haaonline.org/financialhelp.