(Photo via Shutterstock)
(Photo via Shutterstock)

Wisconsin landlords have already filed 1,900 evictions this year. Here’s how renters can stay housed.

A federal eviction moratorium remains in effect, but people across Wisconsin and the country are still being evicted during the coronavirus pandemic.

Unlike Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide eviction moratorium that ended last May, the federal moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not a blanket ban on evictions. It only applies to people who cannot pay rent and would become homeless if evicted. It also does not prevent landlords from beginning eviction proceedings in court, even if the underlying reason is a failure to pay rent.

Beyond that, the CDC moratorium relies on tenants to do the legwork. Here’s what you need to do if you think you’re short on rent and fear eviction.

“You have to affirmatively seek coverage under it in order to get the benefits of the moratorium,” said Kristin Slonski, litigation director and managing attorney for housing defense at Wisconsin Judicare, a public-interest law firm that serves low-income people in the state’s 33 northern counties. “You can’t just expect that because it should cover your situation, that it will.”

To start the process, all a tenant needs to do is sign a form available at the CDC website that declares a person is covered by the moratorium. 

Before signing, make sure the you meet the following requirements: 

  • You have made “best efforts” to obtain government assistance through methods such as the Wisconsin Rent Assistance Program, which is currently out of funding
  • You did not make more than $99,000 in the 2020-21 calendar year (or $198,000 if you file a joint tax return)
  • You cannot pay rent due to a “substantial loss of household income,” which could stem from unemployment, reduced hours, or “extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses”
  • You have made “best efforts” to make partial rent payments
  • You would become homeless or be forced to move into someone else’s home if evicted

After a tenant fills out the form, they should send it to their landlord immediately, Slonski said.

“You have to fill out that form, and you have to give a copy of that filled out form to your landlord, then you’re covered. And until then, you’re not,” said Slonski, whose law firm has helped people stave off evictions using the CDC moratorium.

If a landlord has already filed for eviction, the form should also be filed with the court, Slonski said. And if a judge has already granted the eviction but the local sheriff’s office has yet to enforce the order, the form should be filed with the sheriff’s office, court, and landlord.

“Even if you’re still making your full rental payment right now, but there’s a possibility that in the month of March you won’t be able to—even if it’s just a possibility—fill out the declaration now and serve your landlord with it now,” Slonski said.

Since Jan. 1, over 1,900 eviction cases have been filed in Wisconsin, according to court records. More than 1,100 of those have been filed since Jan. 20, when President Joe Biden in a flurry of day-one executive actions ordered the CDC to extend the moratorium through March 31. It was previously set to end Dec. 31, but former President Donald Trump extended it through Jan. 31 in his final weeks in office.

Slonski said there are “a lot of holes” in the moratorium, and some landlords have found “some success” in bypassing it.

A landlord can get around the order by not renewing someone’s lease if it’s up, filing an eviction based on a breach of the lease contract, or claiming a tenant poses a health or safety risk to other renters in the building, Slonski said. She added that landlords have successfully evicted people even based on small breaches in the landlord-tenant agreement, such as damage to the unit, which would not generally result in an eviction under normal circumstances.

After the moratorium lifts, renters will be required to pay whatever back rent they owe, including any late fees or interest.