Mississippi Center for Justice files motion to prevent evictions through July

Preventing evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic

BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - The Mississippi Center for Justice is looking for ways to protect you from being evicted during the pandemic.

The Center’s Housing Campaign has filed an Emergency Motion requesting the Mississippi Supreme Court institute a hold on evictions during the COVID-19 outbreak.

They hope to extend the provision already put in place by Gov. Reeves that is currently set to end on May 11, 2020.

“Landlords are trying to go around his order,” explained Will Bedwell with the Mississippi Center for Justice. “So since they can’t go to court, can’t get a sheriff to evict people, some landlords are turning off utilities, for example, or trying to lock out tenants. And this is already contrary to the law...and something that does occur in Mississippi.”

Namely, the MCJ is asking that the moratorium be put in place in accordance with the federal CARES Act, which prevents evictions through July 27, 2020, for federal housing programs.

The motion filed April 24 by the Mississippi Center for Justice warns of “an expected and unprecedented rise” in Mississippians becoming homeless after losing their jobs due to the pandemic, making them unable to pay rent.

In addition to the moratorium on evictions, the Center for Justice has also requested the Supreme Court to temporarily prohibit late fees and penalties for failure to pay rent from being issued to tenants.

Gov. Reeves has already issue a statewide hold on evictions through his updated Safer At Home executive order, which was also put into effect on April 24. Currently, that hold is in effect through 8 a.m. May 11.

The MCJ cites the state’s high number of unemployment due to the pandemic, saying the MDES phones have been overwhelmed with callers, leaving many unable to get through to file unemployment claims. That is adding to the issue of people not being able to pay their rent, said MJC.

The federal CARES Act, which was signed into law by President Trump on March 27, prevents evictions and late fees on rental payments through July 27, 2020. However, it only applies to specific properties, which include those involved in federal programs administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Treasury.

Provisions have also been written into the federal stimulus bill to protect landlords during the pandemic, giving the state government the ability to distribute emergency mortgage payments.

The Center for Justice calls the federal and state moratoriums “inconsistent,” saying it will “likely will create confusion for Mississippi Judges presiding over eviction matters, as well as for landlords and tenants.”

According to MCJ’s motion:

“The CARES Act provides additional emergency service grant funds to states and provides more flexibility for the use of other emergency funds being provided to states, which may be used to provide emergency rental assistance payments for tenants suffering job loss or loss of income due to COVID-19. The aforementioned potential sources of funds for rental assistance payments are not yet operational in Mississippi, leaving a gap between the Governor’s order and possible future telieffot tenants.”

MCJ’s motion was joined by Mississippi Legal Services Corporation and North MS Legal Services, as well as being supported by local community partners, Mississippi State Conference NAACP; Mississippi Rising Coalition; Mississippi Poor People’s Campaign, East Biloxi Community Collaborative; Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities; and Grace House.

To read the Motion for Emergency Order in full, click HERE.

To contact the Mississippi Center for Justice with questions about specific situations, you can fill out a contact form on the MCJ website HERE.

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