HOUSTON - Mayor Turner just announced there is no longer a deadline to apply for rental assistance through the City of Houston and Harris County and that renters can apply even if their landlords don't.
He's also calling on courts and constables to pause evictions now that the CDC's eviction moratorium took effect today. But some landlords say they're not accepting it in lieu of rent.
A Houston woman says she gave her landlord the required affidavit that she meets the criteria and still received a notice to vacate.
The CDC ordered the eviction freeze through the year-end to protect people from being exposed to COVID-19.
"This is not my goal to sit in your property and just live free. I want to protect myself," said renter Shamekaa Smith.
She says she signed, delivered, and emailed her landlord an affidavit that she meets the CDC criteria protecting her from eviction.
"So when I went, I said I wanted to give this to you all because I'm going to be a little bit late but I'm going to pay my rent," Smith told us.
But later that day, she says she still received a notice to vacate, reading, "I need to either pay my rent or on the 7th I need to vacate by 11:59."
The CDC order says anyone who violates the order can be fined up to $100,000 or face up to a year in jail.
We reached out to Valencia Grove Apartments in Houston where Smith says she lives. A staff member told us they're worried the CDC order will encourage tenants not to pay rent, leaving management unable to pay utilities and other bills.
Lone Star Legal Aid attorney Juan Santamaria says it's important that renters have proof they gave their landlords the signed CDC affidavit in case they end up in court.
"The best way is to hand-deliver it and have someone there with you to witness that hand-delivering. You can do a certified mail return receipt request. You're going to get a little green card at the end of it saying this was delivered," explained Santamaria.
He says renters should also collect proof that they meed the criteria, which include earning less than $99,000 per individual or $198,000 per couple annually, having lost income due to COVID-19, having sought government aid, and having nowhere else to go.
"Then, yes, the judge shouldn't have any wiggle room to allow the tenant to be evicted. It should be dismissed," said Santamaria.
"I feel like I have major anxiety. I feel overwhelmed because I always try to have my rent on time in the office so I don't have a notice," said Smith.
Tenants needing legal help can reach out to Lone Star Legal Aid's Eviction Right to Counsel Project at 800-733-8394 or lonestarlegalaid.org.
The Metropolitan Organization today called on all Justices of the Peace to halt evictions due to non-payment of rent, and on Congress, Harris County, and the City of Houston to provide more rental assistance to people in need.