HARRIS COUNTY, Texas - Many Harris County Justices of the Peace say they are not holding eviction hearings until June or July, despite the Texas Supreme Court's moratorium being lifted today.
"Thousands of Houstonians are at risk right now of losing their homes," said Hany Khalil, Executive Director of the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation.
Local unions are calling on Houston and Harris County leaders to extend the moratorium on eviction proceedings until July 25. They say many Justices of the Peace are already delaying hearings themselves.
"About two-thirds of them have announced plans to continue their own suspension of their eviction docket through at least June or July," said Khalil.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Eviction notices during COVID-19 pandemic
"I think judges have enough empathy to do what's right," said Justice of the Peace Joe Stephens for Precinct 3, Place 1.
Judge Stephens says he and other judges are not scheduling eviction cases for a while.
"We are starting to issue citations, which honestly means we won't hear an eviction case in my court until mid-June and anything COVID related is pushed out until July," said Stephens. "Looking at the schedule, I don't see any judges that have evictions scheduled for this month."
Judge Stephens says he sent a letter to landlords asking them to work with their tenants.
"I think a lot of them have been doing it. I think that's why, at least in my court, our filings have been way down," he said.
He wants tenants to know that eviction proceedings usually take a month from when a notice is issued and encourages them to communicate with their landlords.
"I think it works for everybody if we can try to keep these tenants in place, find a way they can get caught up on their rent," said Stephens.
"Working people who have lost jobs through no fault of their own need time to be able to pay overdue rent and should not be forced onto the street in the middle of a pandemic," added Khalil.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, some Justices of the Peace will use video conferencing when hearings resume, some will use germ shields and limit the number of people in the courtroom, which may make the process slower than usual.