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Evictions will move forward for renters in Jefferson County despite a statewide moratorium.

In late July, Gov. Andy Beshear said he believed his emergency order would prevent the enforcement of evictions for rent non-payment amid the pandemic, but a spokesman with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office says deputies are legally obligated to enforce a judge’s order.

“I know that there’s orders from the governor which conflict sometimes with what the court orders are,” said Lt. Col. Carl Yates. “If we get the order signed by a judge, that trumps the governor.”

Researchers estimate 211,000 households in Kentucky are unable to pay rent and are at risk of eviction amid the recession triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, according to the research firm Stout. An estimated 142,000 households could face evictions between August and the end of the year, according to their research.

Beshear signed an emergency eviction moratorium in March, then amended that order in May to suspend evictions, only for non-payment. The order was supposed to last as long as the state of emergency. In late July, Beshear said eviction proceedings will move forward.

“I believe that our order prevents enforcement, whether that’s the sheriff’s office or others about the outcome of those proceedings,” Beshear said.

Cathy Hinko, executive director of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition, said she expects evictions will ramp up in September as cases move through the courts.

Hinko is one of several housing advocates who say a wave of evictions will cause untold harm in Kentucky communities: leaving families homeless, increasing crime rates, vacancies and threatening further spread of the coronavirus.

“If we didn’t have a pandemic it would be horrible. If we have a pandemic, it’s almost cruel and unusual punishment for having a debt,” Hinko said.

A WDRB analysis of court records found landlords had filed at least 40 evictions for rent non-payment in Jefferson County as of last week.

The Supreme Court of Kentucky plans to begin a new eviction diversion pilot project in late August to help connect landlords and tenants with the more than $21 million in rent relief available in Jefferson County. There are no similar programs and less funding to help renters in Kentucky’s other counties.

Yates, with the sheriff’s office, says it’s likely other sheriffs around the state will also enforce evictions for non-payment. In Jefferson County, he said there’s already a backlog in the system and expects it will strain the sheriff’s workforce as orders begin to come through.

“The Sheriff’s office and our deputies are kind of in the middle and all we are commanded to do by the courts is to make sure the peace is kept, and that this process goes forward as peacefully and painlessly as possible,” Yates said.

Last weekend, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to consider extending an eviction moratorium for federally backed and federally subsidized housing.

 

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.