Anti-eviction protest furniture blocking 6th and Jefferson 8-8-20

Furniture blocks the intersection of Sixth and Jefferson streets in downtown Louisville on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020. Protesters left the furniture in the street to call for an end to evictions during the coronavirus pandemic. 

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has announced a nationwide hold on residential evictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the CDC’s order, which took effect Friday and lasts for the rest of 2020, doesn’t mean Kentuckians and Hoosiers are automatically shielded from being kicked out of their homes.

The CDC order requires people to take steps to avail themselves of its protections. And, it’s still unclear how courts in Kentucky and Indiana, which issue eviction orders, will implement the order.

In Jefferson County, Kentucky’s largest, “We’ve seen it come up in a couple of cases and so far, they have honored it,” said Stewart Pope, advocacy director for the Legal Aid Society of Louisville, which represents low-income tenants in eviction cases.

But the Kentucky Supreme Court has not issued any written guidance to lower-court judges as to how they should handle cases in light of the order.

Pope noted that a rotating cast of Jefferson County District Court judges tend to the roughly 60 eviction cases processed business each day, and “You can’t predict what the judge who’s in there next week is going to do.”

WDRB contacted representatives of the Kentucky and the Indiana Supreme Court about whether either state will adopt new rules to comply with the CDC order. Neither responded. 

Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky codified the CDC protections in an executive order, but when it comes to evictions, Kentucky courts are in charge. The judges effectively nullified Beshear’s previous indefinite hold on evictions by accepting cases once again on Aug. 1.

Tenants required to sign form

The CDC order doesn’t simply protect all renters from eviction.

Tenants have to sign a “declaration” under penalty of perjury attesting to their eligibility for the assistance and provide a copy of the signed form to their landlords.

The declaration asks them to verify, among the things, that they have used their “best efforts to obtain all available government assistance” for rent payments. It also asks them to swear that they can’t pay because of “substantial loss of household income, loss of compensable hours of work or wages, lay-offs, or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses.”

The declaration can be printed from CDC website. The Kentucky Equal Justice Center, an advocacy group for low-income Kentuckians, made a web app that helps tenants fill out the form, generating a copy that can be printed or emailed directly to landlords.

(Because the form is the same nationwide, Indiana residents can use the KEJC form.)

Rental assistance programs

Indiana renters may have an easier time checking the box regarding government assistance; the Hoosier state’s $40 million assistance fund stop taking applications on Aug. 26, according to the Indiana Department of Housing and Community Development.

In Kentucky, assistance is still available, but Jefferson County renters obtain it through Louisville Metro government, while residents of the other 119 counties have a state-run program that Beshear unveiled this week.

Other limits, requirements

Pope, of the Louisville Legal Aid Society, noted that the CDC applies only to evictions for nonpayment of rent and will not protect renters from being kicked out for other reasons, such as the termination of a lease, property damage or maintenance obligations.

He also advised Kentuckians that showing up to their court hearing – in Jefferson County, they’re being held virtually over Zoom – is a necessary step.

Judges routinely signed eviction judgments against tenants who fail to show up, while those who do appear are given two or three weeks to try to obtain rental assistance and are connected to lawyers and advocates.

“It is imperative for them to show up in court,” Pope said.

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2020 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.