City Hall

The City of Dallas May Offer Eviction Protections Beyond COVID-19 Pandemic

Mark Melton, founder of the nonprofit Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center, wrote the original COVID-19 eviction ordinance.
Mark Melton, founder of the nonprofit Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center, wrote the original COVID-19 eviction ordinance. Shutterstock
During the pandemic, Dallasites have had additional protections against evictions through an ordinance passed by City Council in April 2020.

But the eviction ordinance was never meant to last indefinitely. It’s tied to the governor’s and the mayor’s COVID-19 disaster declarations. On Sept. 19, Gov. Greg Abbott extended the disaster declaration until Oct. 19.

Mark Melton, founder of Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center, said that although the disaster declaration will likely last for years, with the governor continuing to renew it, the conditions under which Dallas’ COVID-19 eviction ordinance were created don’t really exist today.

That’s why some at City Hall are working on changes to the original ordinance, as well as a permanent ordinance that would last long beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

Melton said a recent move to kill the COVID-19 eviction ordinance sparked a lot of the discussion, and the City Council will be briefed on it at its meeting Wednesday. The ordinance was allowed to remain in place, but Melton worried that someone would try to revive this effort. So, he reached out to the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas to talk about potential changes to the COVID-19 ordinance that would allow it to be enforced until rental assistance runs out.

“We’re now in a position where people aren’t being forced to stay home, the viral spread and the instances of COVID haven’t been as severe,” Melton said. “So, the economic fallout is different.”

The argument to end the eviction protections, Melton explained, was that “the policy reasons that underlie this eviction ordinance no longer exist. So, if the reason to have the ordinance was X, Y, and Z, and X, Y, and Z are no longer true, then that must logically mean there’s no reason to have the ordinance, which isn’t crazy.”

Melton said the Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center and Apartment Association of Greater Dallas came up with a deal “with the idea being if we could come up with some common sense policy that we could both push together so we wouldn’t have to draw our swords and fight each other in the bowels of City Hall.”

They decided they would put together a revised version of the temporary COVID-19 eviction ordinance so that it made more sense in today’s environment.

"In my view, there needs to be additional tenant protections on a permanent basis as soon as possible." – Mark Melton, Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center

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Under the city’s COVID-19 eviction ordinance, tenants have 21 days to respond to their landlord’s notice of possible eviction. If the tenant doesn’t respond, the landlord can start the eviction process on the 22nd day with a notice to vacate. From there, the tenant has three days to cough up some money for the missed rent payments, or set up a plan to do so.

If there’s still no action, the landlord can file the eviction petition in local court on the 61st day after the initial notice.

If the tenant does reply to the notice of possible eviction, they get 60 days to figure out a way to pay what’s owed. Their options are to set up a payment plan, apply for rental assistance or find another way to come up with the money. Anything to settle the unpaid rent will help a tenant avoid eviction.

If they don’t come up with a plan, rental assistance falls through or they can't keep up with payments, the landlord can start the eviction process. The tenant would then get a notice to vacate, with three more days to “cure delinquency” or face eviction.

Under the changes that the Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center and Apartment Association of Greater Dallas have discussed, tenants would instead get 10 days to respond to a notice of eviction and present some evidence that they've applied for rental assistance. As long as they do that, they get a full 60 days to figure out how to pay what they owe. Additionally, the proposed change “untethers the ordinance from having a direct COVID-related excuse,” Melton said. “Now, it can be anything.”

Dallas is also working on an ordinance that would provide similar protections outside the COVID-19 pandemic. This ordinance, which the city is guessing will be ready for adoption sometime early next year, would require landlords to give tenants notice of possible eviction and time to respond and settle lease violations. For certain lease violations, a landlord would be able to carry on with the normal eviction process. The issue now, Melton said, is making sure rental assistance doesn’t run out (leading to the end of the temporary ordinance) before the permanent ordinance is ready to be implemented.

To Melton, tenants should always have had these kinds of protections, and there’s certainly no reason to end them today. "In my view, there needs to be additional tenant protections on a permanent basis as soon as possible," Melton said. "The system right now is a stacked deck against them and they need all the help they can get."

The number of evictions in Dallas has held relatively steady. From Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, there were 19,645 evictions filed in the city of Dallas, according to the Child Poverty Action Lab. The average amount owed upon an eviction filing was about $2,454, and totaled some $49.6 million. About 13% of all Dallas evictions came out of one ZIP code, 75243. Evictions in August were at a pandemic high of 2,548. The all-time high was in January 2020 with 2,997 evictions filed.

Dallas ISD is also seeing a high rate of elementary students moving in the middle of the school year, mostly coming from neighborhoods with high eviction filing rates. Some 5,229 K–5 DISD students, 8.5%, moved in the middle of the 2021–2022 school year. Twenty elementary schools accounted for 30% of the district’s K–5 middle-of-school-year moves.

In September, council districts 12, 10, 8, 7, and 2 saw the most eviction filings. However, overall, Tennell Atkins’ District 8 has seen the most evictions. In his district, there were 131 eviction filings for every 1000 renters.

The city’s emergency rental assistance program is federally funded and can provide up to 18 months of assistance for eligible tenants. But, nearly all those funds have been spent on providing rental assistance to more than 10,700 households, according to the city.

Melton said there are efforts to add more funds to the available rental assistance so it will last longer than it's expected to now. This will give everyone more time to work on the permanent ordinance. "The problem's not going away," Melton said. "It's getting worse."
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn

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