Kentucky Politics

There’s a lot of confusion over whether landlords can kick out renters in Kentucky for not paying rent despite Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive order banning evictions during the pandemic, but it appears that for now, it can’t happen.

A lawsuit brought by several Northern Kentucky landlords is challenging Beshear’s authority to stop evictions during the state of emergency.

Beshear and the landlords met during a mediation session last week in an effort to settle the case. Christopher Wiest, an attorney from Covington representing the landlords, said that as of Monday, no agreement has been made.

“I would say probably the settlement efforts have failed at this point. Our intent is just to push forward and try to get the court order later this month,” Wiest said.

Meanwhile the Kentucky Supreme Court announced last week that the court system would begin hearing eviction cases starting on Aug 1.

But Beshear, a Democrat, said last week he believes that his order would still prevent people from being kicked out of their homes for not paying rent.

“The courts will allow eviction proceedings, which is the actual proceeding in court, to occur,” Beshear said.

“But I believe that our order prevents enforcement, whether that’s the sheriffs’ offices or others of the outcomes of those proceedings.”

The Administrative Office of the Courts, which operates the state’s court system, did not respond to a request to clarify whether evictions can be enforced during the pandemic.

Ben Carter, an attorney with the Equal Justice Center, says that even if evictions aren’t enforceable, he’s worried people will feel pressure to “self-evict” if they get a notice about eviction proceedings.

“People see that [hearing] date and say ‘well, I gotta move,’” Carter said. “They can’t afford to risk being set out and having all their stuff be destroyed as well, so they self-evict. And landlords know that too.”

As the lawsuit between the Northern Kentucky landlords and Beshear proceeds in federal court, the Kentucky Supreme Court is considering whether any of the governor’s emergency orders during the coronavirus pandemic are legal, as part of a legal challenge brought by Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron.

And the federal moratorium on evictions in federally supported housing — Section 8 housing or renters whose landlords received federally-backed mortgages, for example — expired on July 25th. The moratorium was not renewed in the coronavirus relief package unveiled by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last week.

National research firm Stout estimates that about 42% of renting households in Kentucky won’t be able to pay rent this month and will be at risk of eviction.

Wiest, who represents the Northern Kentucky landlords, said that Beshear should have found ways to compromise with landlords.

“The governor’s office has never said to landlords, ‘we’re going to go in the meantime and suspend your property taxes and your utility bills’ to make it more equitable up and down the chain,” Wiest said.

“Essentially since March, the governor has said, tough luck landlords, we’re going to make you bear the financial burdens of the tenants regardless of whether they can pay, regardless of whether or not they have a COVID impact.”

Carter, with the Kentucky Equal Justice Association, said that even if people can’t get kicked out of their apartments or houses, having an eviction hearing can damage their ability to rent in the future.

“Why are we spending the court system’s resources, sending out law enforcement, having all these hearings to get an eviction on people’s records,” Carter said. “That’s going to hurt people for no reason. Except filing an eviction, landlords know, is a good way to extract money from people.”

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.