The Connecticut Fair Housing Center is asking Gov. Ned Lamont and legislators to enact an extended moratorium on evictions and foreclosures to prevent people from losing their homes during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Judicial Branch has put a two-week stay on hearings related to evictions and foreclosures but the housing attorneys with the center, who are with non-profit firms and legal services providers, are asking that the ban continue until the health crisis eases.
The center “strongly” supports legislation “that would place moratoria on residential foreclosures and evictions during this public health emergency, something that has been done in San Jose and Miami with respect to evictions and is being proposed throughout the country, including in California, Washington, New York and Massachusetts,” the letter dated Friday said.
The correspondence was addressed to Lamont and several legislative leaders, some of whom admitted that they are being inundated with requests from all types of groups and industries because of the public health crisis created by the virus.
“If anything, it would have to be done by the Executive Branch,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-Wallingford. “The leaders are getting together today or tomorrow. There are a lot of things going on simultaneously. Everyone is trying to get their hands around it.”
Gov. Ned Lamont and state leaders have been working to lessen the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak by issuing “social distancing” orders including the closing of all schools. Effective Monday, all bars and restaurants could only provide take-out and delivery service but no alcohol or sit-down dining. Movie theaters and gyms have also been closed by Lamont.
The state legislature will not gather or conduct business as a body for at least a few weeks due to concerns over the spread of the virus. That will leave little time to address the variety of bills and the budget before the legislative session’s constitutionally mandated closing date of May 6.
The calls for an extended moratorium on evictions and foreclosures could have other consequences, Fasano said. “You have to be very careful,” he said. “If you say no evictions whatsoever, people may not pay rent. When you have a blanket thing like that, it can have cascading consequences because landlords still need to pay taxes, insurance and mortgages on the property.”
State leaders worked with utility companies to get an agreement that they wouldn’t shut off electricity or water for non-payment during the pandemic as a public health issue. But the large utility companies can absorb the costs, Fasano said.
“But in an apartment complex or a three-family home, that would be a significant cost to the property owner,” he said.
Advocates for fair housing are concerned that evictions or foreclosures that move ahead while the health crisis is still continuing could put families and individuals at risk for homelessness and state and city officials at risk for dealing with contaminated personal property.
Many eviction and foreclosure clients are self-represented and rely on publications at the courts’ service centers and court-based programs such as the Volunteer Attorney Program, the center said. The services may be interrupted by the health crisis and people may be hesitant to put themselves at risk by going to a courthouse, the attorneys said.
“We also strongly support the Judicial Branch’s decision not to schedule or hear matters related to summary process and foreclosure actions for two weeks,” the letter said. “However, this delay has only been announced for the next two weeks, and our understanding is that judges are still signing executions, meaning residents are losing their homes and potentially being made homeless during this public health emergency.”
A spokesperson for the Judicial Branch said Monday that judges will not be signing eviction notices and “foreclosures are not moving forward at this time.” Courts are remaining open for the next two weeks only for priority proceedings including arraignments and emergency custody orders.
The legislature’s Judiciary Committee has some control over Judicial Branch functions but ultimately leadership and the Branch discuss concerns and work toward a resolution, Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, committee co-chair, said.
“We don’t have control over Judicial,” Winfield said. “It was my understanding that evictions aren’t going forward. The public needs to know clearly what we are doing. If I’m not 100 percent certain, I’m sure the public isn’t either.”