A lawsuit brought by a group of Northern Kentucky landlords challenging Gov. Andy Beshear’s moratorium on evictions during the pandemic has been set for Sept. 2.
The challenge comes as eviction proceedings have resumed in Kentucky, despite Beshear’s order.
The Kentucky Supreme Court authorized evictions to proceed at the beginning of the month, and some Kentucky sheriffs have said that they will enforce evictions if courts order them to do so.
Meanwhile, advocates warn that Kentucky is headed for an eviction crisis if renters aren’t given more protections during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ben Carter, an attorney with the Kentucky Equal Justice Center, told state lawmakers on Thursday that more time is needed for renters, the court system and government officials to come up with a plan to keep people from being kicked out of their homes during the pandemic.
“What is happening across Kentucky in our 120 counties is not uniform, is not safe and is not fair to the home renters who are depending on being able to stay healthy at home,” Carter said.
A panel of state lawmakers heard testimony from tenant advocates and landlords during the legislative hearing.
Carter says that out-of-work renters are especially vulnerable after the expiration of the $600 per week supplement to unemployment benefits last month, and another round of coronavirus assistance for citizens has stalled in Congress.
According to the national research firm Stout, about 142,000 renting households in the state are at risk of being evicted by the end of the year, about 42% of the total in the state.
But landlords say that they can’t afford to allow people to live in rental properties without paying rent.
J.D. Carey, executive director of the Apartment Association of Kentucky, says that some landlords have gone without rent from tenants for six months.
“While landlords can cover a month or two for nonpaying tenants, even a small percentage of tenants failing to pay for six months, creates a significant hardship for landlords,” Carey said.
During the hearing landlord advocates said that some tenants are able to pay rent, but haven’t been because they think they are protected by the moratorium.
Carter, with the Kentucky Equal Justice Center, says that landlords can recoup money in small claims court without going through the eviction process.
“If they know that people can pay rent and are working from home in their apartment, they could’ve filed breach of contract actions in April to garnish someone’s wages and get the rent that way,” Carter said.
Rep. Savannah Maddox, a Republican from Dry Ridge, said that the moratorium allows for a “parasitic relationship” between tenants and landlords.
“In reality this should be a mutualistic relationship,” Maddox said. “It’s not just the tenants, the home renters that are hurting, it’s everyone else, too.”
Rep. Nima Kulkarni, a Democrat from Louisville, said lawmakers need to come up with a solution that works for both tenants and landlords.
“There’s no scenario where we can pit one against the other and come out of this in any kind of a good way,” Kulkarni said.
The legality of Beshear’s eviction moratorium also depends on the Kentucky Supreme Court, which is considering whether any of the governor’s emergency orders during the coronavirus pandemic are legal. That legal challenge was brought by Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron.