CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — As the pandemic rages on, several Texans are finding themselves struggling to make different payments on time, one of which: monthly rent. If this is you, you should know you're not alone in the struggle and there are resources available to help you from being forced out of your home.
The new online information portal, Stop TX Eviction, is a place to start.
It was created by the three main legal aid providers here in Texas: Lone Star Legal Aid, Legal Aid of Northwest Texas and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (which services our area of the Coastal Bend).
Through the digital portal, tenants can access information regarding their legal rights when it comes to the eviction process, where to look for rental assistance and apply for free legal help. For those who speak Spanish, there's a switch at the top left of the portal that completely changes all text to Spanish.
Through the portal, renters can also find more information on the Texas Eviction Diversion Program which launched its pilot program just last month. The $171 million program was created by the Supreme Court of Texas and was helped made possible through CARES Act funding to assist eligible tenants who may be behind on rent due to the pandemic. The pilot phase of the program first launched in 19 counties across the state. The counties in our area included in the pilot are: Bee, Jim Wells, Kleberg and San Patricio, however beginning January 1st it is expected to go statewide.
"Eviction cases that are about non-payment of rent can be referred to a local provider or rental assistance to provide up to six months of back-rent and possibly future rent to cover what the tenant owes so that they can avoid eviction," explained Marissa Latta, a housing attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.
Latta says it can be very overwhelming and unnerving the moment someone receives an eviction notice, but that it's vital that they're aware that they do not have to just up and leave immediately.
"Eviction is a court process and landlords cannot physically remove a tenant unless they go through that court process. So, tenants have the right to show up in court and defend themselves, they can seek a lawyer to represent them if they want that, they can also seek rental assistance in the meantime," Latta said. "We know that lots and lots of people are behind on rent, people shouldn’t be ashamed or feel like they’ve done something wrong because they’re not able to keep up with their financial obligations during this time."
She also assures if you do receive an eviction notice due to financial struggles brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, that this is not a crime and to not be intimidated by all of the legal jargon. However, it is up to tenants to take the steps to seek rental assistance.
"These notices are scary. They’re delivered by a law enforcement officer, a constable or a sheriff. A notice to vacate is delivered by the landlord, but it sometimes has very scary language. It says you have to leave within three days and if you don’t you’re committing a 'forcible detainer,'' Latta said.
"A lot of that is some specific and technical legal language, but what people need to understand is that it is not a crime to continue to live in your house even if you owe rent or even if you’re threatened with eviction. This is not a criminal matter and you can’t go to jail just because you continue to live in your home as you defend against the eviction against you."
Latta advised that if tenants are wanting to seek legal assistance, they can also visit https://www.trla.org/ to apply. Once the application is submitted, she said renters can expect a reply within about three days. On the TRLA website there is also a direct link to the "Stop Tx Eviction" portal.
"What I want tenants to know is that the start of the process is not the end, and that there are the opportunities for them to get the help they need so that they don’t have to lose their housing."
For the latest updates on coronavirus in the Coastal Bend, click here.
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