AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Tenants Council says it’s experiencing a 30% increase in calls this month.
Executive Director Molly Jensen says they’re seeing more landlords harass tenants who are late on rent to evict — even though that’s illegal right now.
“She thought, ‘I’m evicted now. I’ve lost my home,’” said Mincho Jacob, translating for renter Petra Antonio.
Jacob is a spokesperson for Building and Strengthening Tenant Action (BASTA), a nonprofit that advocates for tenants’ rights.
His group reached out to Petra’s landlord after she received an abandoned dwelling notice.
“Which is a specific kind of notice that’s not a notice to vacate, which is an eviction notice, this is, ‘You don’t live here anymore,’” Jacob said.
But the pressure is piling up on both sides as landlords face mounting bills, too.
Landlords like Gloria Gene’s mother, Gloria Bliss Moore, still have to pay their dues.
“For mortgages, for taxes, for insurance and for all the things that you have to do to sustain rental costs,” Gloria Gene explained.
She says while many of her tenants who can’t afford rent are acting in good faith, she feels others are abusing the system. She’s facing that problem with one tenant now. She says she doesn’t even know if he’s applied for rental assistance with the city.
“The city does not force tenants who don’t want to apply or can’t qualify. And that’s what we’re up against. There’s nothing that comes directly to landlords,” Moore said.
City and county protections have been extended until February. That means Austin renters paying less than about $2,500 a month can’t receive a notice to vacate. They also get a grace period of 60 days to pay back rent before having to evict.
Travis County judges also won’t act on eviction filings until then.
That means Moore is forced to watch her mother’s profits drain.
“Her profit for a year is about five months, and this has taken four months of it.”
That money, Gloria Gene says, usually pays for her mother’s care at a long-term facility, where rent has also gone up by about $1,000 a month.
“She worked all of her life, hard, to have investment property that would take care of her in her old age,” Moore said.
Gloria Gene is making up that money now through other assets but says it’s not sustainable.
“Probably number one I would ask right now is the Travis County grant a property tax exemption to landlords like us who have had no other relief,” Moore said.
“There are a lot of landlords who have been very patient very supportive of their tenants,” said Jensen.
But she says her group is receiving increasing reports of other landlords pressuring their tenants to “self-evict.”
“Either the landlords don’t understand the protections, or they’re hoping that the tenants don’t understand the protections,” Jensen said.
That’s what Jacob believes happened to Antonio. BASTA sent a letter to her landlord in conjunction with a lawyer and says the landlord rescinded their notice and apologized.
Antonio has also since received her rental assistance money from the City of Austin for six months. Her husband’s hours have been cut, and she was let go from her cleaning job at the start of the pandemic.
Antonio sometimes sells food to her neighbors for extra cash but doesn’t know what will happen in a few months. Neither does Moore.
“My heart goes out to my tenant and all the people living there. I just don’t have the budget to continue to subsidize their rent,” she said.
The stimulus package signed by President Donald Trump includes about $25 billion in rent assistance. It also extends a national eviction moratorium through the end of January.
Both Moore and Jensen say when funds are distributed, more needs to be done to follow up and ensure the money is getting in the right hands and used properly.