JONESBORO — While help is available to tenants who are struggling to pay rent, some landlords are refusing to accept the payments.
Casey Kidd, director of human services for Crowley’s Ridge Development Council, said the agency received a grant from the Coronavirus Aid Relief Economic Security Act that could help both renters and landlords during a challenging time, but some property owners simply refuse to cooperate.
“Arkansas Fresh Start is a rental federalization program that was born of the CARES Act legislative community,” Kidd said. “Our agency received around $450,000 to help families at the 80 percent median income level.”
While there have been many families who have qualified and received help, some who qualified did not receive help because their landlords refused to cooperate, said Kidd.
The landlord has to agree to waive all late fees, additional deposits and any penalties that are currently assessed in addition to the rent, she said. In addition, landlords also have to agree not to evict tenants in a binding agreement that complies with the Centers for Disease Control Temporary Halt to Evictions agreement.
Kidd said landlords also have to agree to accept partial payments from tenants for the remainder of the time the eviction moratorium is in effect, which will be Dec. 31.
“Landlords are having an issue with waiving fees and agreeing not to evict tenants,” Kidd said. “They think by signing this agreement they can never assess late fees and never evict tenants. That is just not true. That is just until the moratorium goes out of effect, which is Dec. 31.”
Kidd said while Crowley’s Ridge Development Council has been able to help a lot of families, it has had several landlords who were unwilling to sign the agreements necessary to receive a check.
If property owners would cooperate, Kidd said they would at least be guaranteed some payment, but if they don’t they are not guaranteed anything from tenants struggling to survive in a pandemic.
Kidd said the program will pay up to two and a half month’s rent for those families who qualify.
“The median rent for a three-bedroom in Jonesboro is $1,077,” she said. “If someone’s rent is $1,150 and they qualify (for the program) we would pay the $1,077, and the renter would be responsible for the rest.”
Tenants do have one option that will get keep them from facing homelessness at least through the holidays, she said. The CDC has a legal document that tenants can sign and give to their landlords.
Once that occurs, Kidd said renters cannot be evicted and are protected until Dec. 31.
“If the CDC issues another Eviction Moratorium in January, tenants will have to sign a new document and give it to their landlords in order to be protected,” Kidd said.
Kate Rieber, staff attorney in the Housing Department of Legal Aid of Arkansas in West Memphis, said the documents issued by the CDC will stand up in court.
“The CDC moratorium does protect from evictions,” Rieber said, “if (tenants) are being evicted for not paying rent.”
Rieber said she is seeing landlords who are given the document abide by it.
“Most people are not being evicted if they provide the declaration,” she said.
In the coming months, as Arkansas residents continue to face the effects of the pandemic – which range from job losses to battling the virus – Rieber said she predicts there will be a lot of court cases based around housing issues.
Another looming issue is rapidly depleting funding. Initially, the City of Jonesboro had a rental assistance program, but Bill Campbell, Jonesboro’s director of communications, said those funds have all been distributed.
Kidd said the grant for ARFreshStart that will assist area residents is already halfway depleted, so those in need of assistance need to apply as soon as possible.
“We have spoken with clients who are just really grateful for the help at a time when they had no other options,” she said. “I have heard so many families say they are worried they will be evicted and become homeless. They are fearful they will be homeless with nowhere to go.”