D.C., Maryland and Virginia have put in place protections for renters and homeowners during the pandemic — but they aren't absolute, and won't last forever.
The coronavirus pandemic has been a dramatic shock to untold numbers of people across the Washington region, many of whom have seen their jobs disappear or are facing cutbacks in the hours that they work. And in an area as costly as ours, one of the biggest household expenses is the household itself.
Whether in paying rent or shouldering a mortgage, many residents in D.C., Maryland and Virginia are concerned about what might happen if they fall behind on their payments. Jurisdictions across the region have taken steps to help renters and homeowners alike, but those efforts are limited either in scope or duration. Below is all the basic information you need to know about paying for housing during the pandemic.
Do I still need to pay my rent or mortgage?
In short, yes. None of the jurisdictions in the Washington region have suspended rent or mortgage payments, despite calls from housing advocates for that to happen.
But will I get evicted if I don't pay my rent?
Not for the time being. In D.C. and Maryland, evictions have been stopped altogether during those respective states of emergency. In Virginia, the current halt on evictions is expected to last through April 26, but could be extended.
But housing advocates and attorneys warn that unless something changes, landlords will be able to restart the eviction process once the pandemic passes. They also generally caution against tenants deciding to launch a rent strike, and say people having trouble paying rent should absolutely speak to their landlords before doing anything else.
The $2 trillion recovery bill passed by Congress last month — known as the CARES Act — also includes an eviction moratorium for certain types of public housing, starting on March 27 and ending July 25. That same bill also offer renters who live in properties that have federally backed mortgages protection from eviction during that same time period, even if a state of emergency ends.
Will banks foreclose on my house if I don't pay my mortgage?
It depends where you live, and it depends on your mortgage.
Generally speaking, the CARES Act imposes a moratorium on foreclosures — though that only applies to people with federally backed mortgages, which include FHA loans, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Veteran's Administration, etc. Fortunately, that's roughly 70% of mortgages nationwide.
In D.C., an emergency bill passed this week requires mortgage providers and servicers to offer qualified borrowers impacted by the pandemic payment deferral lasting as long as 90 days.
In Maryland, courts have stopped hearing any foreclosure or tax sale cases.
Housing advocates say that homeowners facing difficulties paying their mortgage should contact their lender to see what options are available to them. But they also warn that while foreclosures may generally stop for the time being, homeowners haven't been absolved of their responsibility pay their mortgage (or property taxes).
How about rent hikes or late fees?
The emergency bill in D.C. specifically prohibits rent increases during the state of emergency, no matter whether you live in a rent-controlled or market-rate unit. And yes, it applies retroactively — it prohibits any rent increase since the state of emergency was declared on March 11, but also any rent hike that was announced earlier but set to take effect during the state of emergency. And the ban also applies for 30 days beyond whenever the state of emergency ends.
It also may give some tenants temporary relief on their rent. If your landlord benefits from the mortgage payment deferral offered in D.C., they have to pass those savings on to you.
And a bill passed last month prohibits landlords from imposing fees for late or unpaid rent.