CFPB Reminds Landlords To Honor COVID-19 Evictions Pause

By Al Barbarino
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Law360 (May 3, 2021, 7:37 PM EDT) -- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau put the nation's largest multifamily housing landlords on notice Monday regarding their obligations to comply with a temporary moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agency sent letters to the landlords — who collectively own more than 2 million apartment units — asking them to "examine your practices" to ensure compliance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium ordered in September 2020 and later extended through June 30.

The CDC order prohibits landlords from evicting tenants if the tenant submits a written declaration that they can't afford full rental payments "and would likely become homeless or have to move into a shared living setting if evicted," the CFPB noted.

"This letter is to remind you of the federal protections currently in place to protect against certain residential evictions in order to keep people in their homes and stop the spread of COVID-19," a sample letter published by the CFPB reads. 

The letters also ask the landlords to "remediate any harm to consumers stemming from any law violations" tied to noncompliance with the CDC order.

A CFPB spokesperson said the agency "isn't publishing the names of the companies that received the letter." The agency also did not indicate how many landlords were contacted, but noted that none of the recipients have been found to have violated the law.

An interim final rule also went into effect Monday establishing requirements that debt collectors and attorneys working on behalf of landlords provide "clear and conspicuous" written notice to tenants about their eviction protections under the moratorium.

The notice must be provided on the same date as an eviction notice or, if no eviction notice is required by law, on the date the action is filed, the CFPB reiterated Monday.

"Debt collectors must provide the notice in writing. Phone calls or electronic notice such as text messages or emails are not sufficient," the CFPB said. 

Monday's letters "encourage" landlords to notify attorneys and debt collectors about their obligations under both the CDC moratorium and Monday's final rule.

"No one should lose their home without understanding their rights," CFPB acting Director Dave Uejio said in a statement, noting that nearly 9 million households are at risk of eviction due to the economic effects of the pandemic.

"Landlords should ensure that ... debt collectors working on their behalf, which may include attorneys, notify tenants of their rights under federal law," Uejio said. "We will hold accountable debt collectors who move forward with illegal evictions."

The 2021 rankings from the National Multifamily Housing Council, an apartment industry advocacy and research group, indicate that the nation's 38 largest multifamily landlords own more than 2 million apartment units, according to an analysis conducted by Law360. Among them are Miami-based Starwood Capital Group with 89,349 units, Chicago-based Equity Residential with 78,568 units and New York-based Related Cos. with 73,082 units, according to the NMHC rankings.

Representatives for Starwood, Equity Residential and Related Cos. did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

--Editing by Alanna Weissman.

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