With the coronavirus forcing businesses to close and leaving many out of work, Gov. Gary Herbert put a temporary stop to evictions in Utah and is allowing renters to defer rent payments until May 15.
But the order doesn’t apply to those who were not directly impacted by the pandemic, which is the case for Jacqueline Pearson. She was evicted last month after she was laid off and fell behind on her rent.
“It was right before the whole quarantine started officially, but the scare was out there,” Pearson said. “I just took my son over to my mom's house and I figured that would be the most steady while I try and figure everything out.”
Pearson said she was lucky to have a place to take her son, but couldn’t stay there herself because the apartment already had four people living there.
While those in the apartment are able to work from home in order to maintain social distancing, Pearson recently found a new job as a cashier at Domino’s Pizza. She worried that going into work each day could put the others at risk of catching the virus, so she opted to stay at a motel for a week until she could work out a temporary deal with her landlord.
The landlord eventually let her stay another two weeks at her old apartment. But if she doesn’t pay back what she owes by the end of April, she’ll be out for good.
“This is the same exact situation that I’ve seen for the past two or three years, but it ironically has to happen right now,” said Heather Lester, a tenant-landlord mediator with Utah Community Action.
Lester said the governor’s eviction freeze won’t help people like Pearson who were evicted prior to the pandemic.
For them, Lester recommended starting with local housing authorities. In Salt Lake County, where Pearson lives, there are three. They can offer rental assistance and connect people to other organizations that can help. The Department of Workforce Services also offers similar assistance.
Still, little if any of those funds can be used for pay off past debt, which is what is mainly holding Pearson back now. She said she’s tried to find other apartments, but has been rejected each time when they find out she owes money to a previous landlord.
“There's really no grant programs that I know of that pay back rent or debt collection,” Lester said. “Basically that collection will be on [the tenant] to pay back.”
Luckily, Lester said, landlords are more willing to make deals now because there aren’t many people looking for apartments.
She said Pearson’s best bet now is to try and create a plan to pay off the debt she owes, even if it’s only a small amount each month. And by showing that deal to a future landlord, that could help get her into a new place.
As for Pearson, she says she’ll keep looking for an apartment that will accept her. If that doesn’t work out, she said she might be able to stay in an RV parked in a friend’s impound lot.
Jon Reed is a reporter for KUER. Follow him on Twitter @reedathonjon
Correction 8:52 a.m. MDT 4/15/2020: A previous version of the story mischaracterized Gov. Herbert's temporary hold on evictions in the state. The freeze applies only to coronavirus-related cases.