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Losing a job and facing eviction: "They don't know what to do"

Americans struggle with rent during pandemic
Americans struggle to pay rent amid pandemic as fears of a housing crisis loom 05:18

With millions of Americans out of work because of the coronavirus pandemic, there is a growing concern many could be evicted from their apartments or homes. While the federal CARES Act temporarily shields some people living in federally subsidized housing and some states have put a short-term halt on evictions, some renters are facing eviction when they shouldn't be and others don't have any protections.

Before the pandemic took her job, Rhonda Englander said she worked as a contract medical assistant, visiting patients' homes. She stopped getting assignments in mid-March, which means she now has no income.

No income, she said, means she couldn't pay the April rent on her two-bedroom apartment in Boise, Idaho. She said she asked the complex manager to forgive her rent or help her in other ways.

"They were not willing to work with me, nor were they willing to waive any administrative fees or late fees," Englander told CBS News Consumer Investigative Correspondent Anna Werner.

Englander said she is "incredibly angry, knowing that I'm one among so many that are experiencing this."

Some states, including Massachusetts and Delaware, offer temporary protections from eviction, and the CARES Act put a 120-day moratorium on evictions for those living in federally subsidized rental properties. But some advocates are seeing problems.

"The calls have just doubled in the last couple weeks," said Richard Klinge, who runs an Oklahoma City University program that gives free legal help to people facing evictions. "They don't know what to do. They're getting threatened with eviction. They've lost their job. And so they're just frustrated and scared. They're scared."

Ayanna Stallings, who lives in the Oklahoma City metro area, lost her job in a middle school due to COVID-19 and fell behind on her rent. Then her landlord gave her an eviction notice.

"I was told that there was multiple people, especially like my neighbors, that got a similar letter as me, who are in the same boat, and they are well aware that we are not working at the current time," Stallings said.

Yet Klinge found her apartment complex is covered by the federal eviction moratorium, something he pointed out to the property managers in a letter warning them their action could be a violation.

On Tuesday, one of the complex's owners told CBS News "this was a screw-up" by a local manager and that neither he nor the management company were aware of the eviction warning given to Stallings until Tuesday. "We immediately stopped that," he said.

But Klinge said Stallings' is one of several cases he's seen at various properties in the area.  

"I'm seeing a small piece of the action. How many people are getting threatened with eviction, and intimidated and scared, and are they going to move out when they could stay there for four months? I want to prevent that," he said.

Bob Pinnegar, with the National Apartment Association, insists most people won't face eviction even if they've been put on notice because many courts are closed.

"In many parts of the country, evictions have been put on temporary hold. They've been held off," he said. "At this point, nothing can happen until the courts reopen. That could be anywhere from … weeks to months."

But if renters don't know that, they may panic. 

"I think if you watch the news and the television, you know, this is things that are being talked about right now," Pinnegar said. "By and large, the industry is working with residents and setting up payment plans."

Still, many people will owe months of back rent, and experts worry a housing crisis is looming.

"This is the worst economic crisis the United States has seen in generations," said Matthew Desmond, a Princeton University professor who runs a project called The Eviction Lab. "If nothing else changes and evictions continue as normal, then this public health crisis will turn into a full-blown homelessness crisis."

The federal moratorium is set to expire on July 25. Housing advocates are pushing for a national moratorium for all renters, as well as billions of dollars in federal rental assistance to ensure renters don't fall off a financial cliff when the moratoriums are lifted and back rent comes due.

Englander in Idaho got her rent covered by a local charity, but she still isn't sure what she'll do about her May rent of $875. An attorney for her complex told CBS News if managers forgave her rent, they would have to forgive the rent for everyone. However, he noted that the complex managers have chosen not to evict anyone for the month of April.

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