Federal eviction moratorium in limbo; Sioux Falls and Minnehaha officials discuss effects

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The federal eviction moratorium put in place in September 2020 came to an end August 1, 2021. Now, on August 3, the Associated Press reports that White House sources say President Joe Biden will revive the eviction moratorium, the end of which, according to East River Legal Services, has caused concerns for renters across South Dakota.

While the current cancellation of the moratorium may be concerning for many, City of Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County officials say the issue of evictions is not a new one.

“Our eviction rate through the Sheriff’s Office at one point was up 212%. That was before COVID,” Anny Libengood, Community Services and Housing Navigator with Minnehaha County, said.

“Housing challenges and homelessness already existed before COVID and they were underlying issues,” Amos Abu, Housing Clinic Coordinator with the City of Sioux Falls, said. “This moratorium actually helped to stabilize to some degree — without that we would have had quite a number of people who would have been out. Shelters would have been overcrowded and who knows what would have happened.”

Abu and Libengood says that while there will likely be a slight influx that accompanies the end of the moratorium, they don’t expect to see too many.

“Evictions still happened during the moratorium,” Libengood said. “It was for other things. You couldn’t evict somebody solely for non-payment of rent — but if there were other issues plus non-payment of rent that’s a different story.”

This prediction is backed up in part by Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead, who told KELOLAND News that the Sheriff’s Office hasn’t seen a significant decrease in evictions during the pandemic moratorium. He says the office has continued to do court-ordered evictions for reasons such as lease violations, disorderly renters and even non-payment of rent where the tenant did not claim the CDC moratorium exemption.

“It is worth noting that it’s not uncommon for landlords to work with the tenants to avoid eviction, and in the case of the CDC moratorium, some assisted the tenants in completing the paperwork,” Milstead said in an email.

Libengood says that not all the effects of the moratorium were positive.

“I think it had a wide range of different impacts,” she said. “It depends on the group we’re talking about — I think part of the messaging that was missing from the eviction moratorium when it first started was that some of the messaging was that you don’t have to pay your rent — I think a lot of landlords were left holding the bag.”

Libengood acknowledges that the moratorium definitely has had a positive effect on many who were in need, but says that some people abused the system.

“We’ve gotten reports from some landlords that tenants just blatantly just said, ‘The president says I don’t have to pay my rent so I’m not going to,'” she said. “So there’s that group, but we also have the group that genuinely needed the help.”

Libengood says in the end, your reason for not paying rent doesn’t matter.

“Whether you didn’t pay your rent maliciously or whether you didn’t pay it because you truly were having difficulties, the landlord is still holding the bag — the landlord is still owed the money, regardless,” Libengood said.

Libengood spoke more about the situation of landlords. “We should remember that we’ve lost some landlords through this — early on some landlords weren’t able to handle this and they had to sell,” she said.

“I think a lot of focus has been on the tenants, rightly so,” Libengood said. “But we also have to have landlords to house people, and we’re already in a housing crunch. When we lose some of those, it’s bad.”

One extension of the housing crunch pointed out by Libengood is the effect on future tenants.

“Future tenants are going to eat whatever losses landlords had to eat themselves — it’s going to be passed down,” Libengood said.

This, says Abu, will have an effect on those already at a disadvantage, namely the low to moderate income renters.

Asked about the timing for the end of the moratorium, Abu stated that the specific date that it ended was not the most important consideration.

“Once it ends, the real question is how we mitigate the fallout on those who genuinely need [the moratorium] — that will be the next step forward,” Abu said.

Abu and Libengood say that people concerned about facing eviction should first and foremost speak with their landlord about their situation. Beyond that, they point to community resources such as SD CARES and the 211 Helpline, as well as services such as LSS.

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