When Aileen Collins lost her job on March 23, the layoff put her behind on rent in April and then in May. She says her apartment complex threatened to lock her out of her apartment in April.
Collins says she eventually caught up on her $1,100 a month rent, but late fees continued to stack up. This week, the fees totaled $345, according to Collins.
“Every day to see it go up, if I have to pay it, I’ve got to add that on to the $1,100. I’m thinking about that all the time,” Collins said.
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As part of the CARES Act passed by Congress, landlords with federally-subsidized and federally-backed mortgages are temporarily banned from filing eviction cases or charging late fees due to nonpayment of rent during the COVID-19 eviction moratorium.
According to Fannie Mae, the property Collins lives in does have a federally-backed loan.
When NBC 5 Responds reached out to The Brooklyn at 9590, the apartment complex, at first, continued to insist it could charge late fees.
But after NBC 5 Responds followed up, the complex later said in a statement: “Thank you for bringing the issue of the late fees to our attention. We have conducted additional research on this issue and determined that the late fees were charged in error and will be refunded.”
NBC 5 asked attorney Larry Friedman, who is not involved in this case, to weigh in.
“I’ve read the CARES Act 20 times,” Friedman said.
He told NBC 5 there are no exceptions to the rules laid out in the CARES Act for apartment complexes with federally-backed mortgages.
“It prevents or forbids the landlord from charging any penalties or late fees for non-payment of rent. And the statute is very clear,” Friedman said.
Friedman’s advice to landlords during the crisis, “If you’re a landlord, you want to help your tenants get through this period so in the end you have full occupancy in your properties. We’re all in this boat together.”
Sandy Rollins, executive director of the Texas Tenants’ Union, said the CARES Act moratorium on evictions and late fees for federally-backed or subsidized properties lasts through July 25. After that, the landlord should provide 30 days notice before filing for eviction.
“For a landlord to pile on stress and harm and violate their rights and not bother to find out what their obligations are is disturbing,” said Rollins.
Rollins says renters need to be aware of the CARES Act and work to find out if a tenant lives in a property covered by CARES Act protections.
That information may not always be clear to a renter.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition offers a searchable database.
According to its website, the coalition’s database may not include data on single-family rental homes of one to four units that are also protected under the CARES Act. The database may also not include all Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac multi-family mortgages.
Fannie Mae also offers a loan lookup tool for renters.
Freddie Mac has a similar search form.
For renters facing eviction during the pandemic, lawyers in North Texas are volunteering to provide legal help.
As for Collins, she says she was never locked out of her home and still lives in her apartment. She says she hopes her story helps other renters learn their rights.
“I just want everybody to know that there is help out there, that we’re going to make it through all this,” said Collins. “Just find your resources.”