Daniel Zhao

Last Friday, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont ordered measures to protect residential renters struggling to pay housing costs during the coronavirus emergency in an executive order.

The executive order stipulates that landlords are prohibited to evict renters prior to June 1 unless the renter poses a threat to another tenant or the landlord. For rent due in April and May, tenants will be granted a 60-day grace period. In May, tenants must notify their landlord that they have faced increased expenses or experienced a loss of revenue during the COVID-19 crisis. Finally, if a tenant has paid a security deposit of more than one month’s rent, the tenant can apply all or part of that to April, May, or June rent, again explaining their changed economic circumstances to the landlord.

“Doing something for the renters is really important to me,” said Lamont. “It at least gives people a 90-day break and a breather until we get this economy going again, or least until we get those other supports going from the federal government.”

This order follows a decision the week before to provide mortgage relief to homeowners and temporary relief for upcoming municipal tax payments. 

In response to such measures for homeowners, associations of residential renters urged Lamont to address tenants’ situation, given that renters’ income is generally half that of homeowners.

Friday’s order makes Connecticut “leading in state efforts to address the housing ramifications of COVID-19,” according to Alieza Durana of the Eviction Lab at Princeton University.

Despite the new measures, some housing rights advocacy groups argued that the executive order did not go far enough.

Nathan Leys LAW ’20, student director of the Housing Clinic at Yale Law School told the News that, while measures to temporarily provide relief are important, he worried about the implications for families after the current pause ends.

“The governor should be applauded for pausing evictions for at least the next few months,” Leys said. “But it’s setting up a time bomb of eviction filings once the moratorium on new cases ends.

Leys urged what he called “real rent relief”: the Connecticut government relieving tenants of their legal responsibility to pay rent during the coronavirus emergency, or directly providing financial assistance to cover the rent. Otherwise, he warned, another economic crisis might ensue in just a few months.

Matthew Spiegel, a professor of finance at the Yale School of Management, emphasized that this policy only delays an inevitable economic loss, speaking about costs to both tenant and landlord.

“The income [tenants] would have produced is gone …The loss will fall somewhere,” Spiegel said. “The government can just rearrange on whom it will fall.”

Spiegel added that landlords’ funds to pay for maintenance costs will decrease, as will their capacity to pay mortgage and property tax payment. He also questioned the aftermath of the moratorium, when tenants will likely struggle with paying outstanding debts to their landlords.

Republican State Sen. Rob Sampson vocally opposed the executive order, describing it as a politically motivated decision, a breach of emergency public health powers and a failure to understand Connecticut’s property market. Sampson suggested that property owners were “already making voluntary arrangements with their tenants.”

Prior to the executive order, Connecticut courts stopped processing eviction requests from landlords. However, even with courts closed, landlords could still initiate the eviction process by filing lawsuits. 

In the first two weeks after courts stopped hearing requests to evict, 516 lawsuits were filed against tenants by landlords, and housing advocates estimate this number has risen to about 800. With the executive order, the rules regarding the timeline for tenants to file their answers have been suspended.

“Nothing is happening on anything ‘pending’ with the court right now,” said Elizabeth Rosenthal of the New Haven Legal Assistance Association.

What happens with ongoing eviction cases when courts reopen will depend on various factors, including when the case was filed, what stage the case was at when it was filed and whether the case is subject to the March 27 CARES Act, a federal eviction moratorium.

In addition to addressing tenant rights, Gov. Lamont’s executive order extended the mandatory shutdown of non-essential businesses and schools until May 20, and permitted food trucks to provide meals to essential workers in rest areas.