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Order halting eviction proceedings doesn’t stop landlords from filing claims

KHOU 11 Investigates discovered 975 evictions filed in Harris County justice courts since March 19.

HOUSTON — Renters have a few more weeks of relief as a Texas Supreme Court order prohibits evictions from going forward until May 18 at the earliest.

But that is not stopping some landlords from starting the process to kick their tenants out.

KHOU 11 Investigates discovered 975 evictions filed in Harris County justice courts since the state’s highest court first ruled on the issue March 19. While the order forbids hearings or other proceedings in cases of non-payment of rent, it does not prohibit landlords from filing claims.

“Continuing to file, I think, is really an act of bad faith,” said Zoe Middleton with Texas Housers, a non-profit research and watchdog group for low-income housing.

Middleton called the recent filings intimidation and a way for landlords to confuse tenants unfamiliar with the process.

“They know that in many cases they are instilling fear in their tenants,” Middleton said.

In Houston’s Near Northside neighborhood, the Wesley Community Center has seen double the amount of calls for emergency assistance over the past month.

“Rent assistance is definitely the big emergency right now,” said Executive Director Amy Corron.

Corron said many of her organization’s clientele are service workers who lost jobs in restaurants or other businesses that have been closed during local emergency coronavirus orders. One call that recently came in was from a mother of four desperate for help.

“Her husband has been out of work because of Covid for a month, and they owe $1,700 for their rent,” Corron said. “There’s not nearly enough aid to meet the need at the moment.”

Since March, the United Way of Greater Houston has received 21,857 requests for rent payment assistance, nearly doubling calls for help with electricity bills and even food.

Middleton said her biggest fear is a flood of eviction cases going forward when the state supreme court order expires.

“People will be out on the streets if we don’t have meaningful rental assistance,” Middleton said. “People will be out on the streets if we don’t find a way to prioritize our federal dollars that our city is getting, this is going to be a second crisis.”

There are signs of additional help coming in.

The proposed $15 million Harris County Relief Fund includes money for rent payment assistance and is set to be voted on at the next meeting of commissioners court.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he plans to lay out a proposal at the next city council meeting.

In the meantime, tenants can call 211 to inquire if any community organizations are offering assistance in their neighborhoods.

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