The nonbinding opinion comes as housing experts and advocates fear that the COVID-19 recession will prompt a surge in evictions across the state.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton advised Friday that local Texas governments’ attempts to delay evictions for renters grappling with the COVID-19 recession amounted to rewriting state law — something they can’t do, he said in nonbinding legal guidance.
“While local officials do possess certain emergency powers … statewide eviction procedures far exceed the requirement that those powers be exercised ‘on an appropriate local scale,’” Paxton said in a letter. “Government Code does not authorize local governmental entities operating under a declared disaster to independently rewrite state law as it applies to their jurisdiction to prohibit, delay, or restrict the issuance of a notice to vacate.”
Paxton’s letter, issued in response to a question from Republican state Sen. Brandon Creighton of Conroe, seems to chide local officials like Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who last month extended the eviction moratorium in the city until Sept. 30. Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe extended his ban until the same date. In other counties, like Harris and Dallas, some justices of the peace have decided to not hear evictions. It is unclear if Paxton’s opinion will influence those judges.
Adler said in a statement that his orders were lawful and “do not amend statewide eviction procedures,” but rather aim to “reduce person-to-person contact to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
Hector Nieto, a spokesperson for Travis County, said officials there are reviewing the opinion.
Paxton’s opinion could have weight if someone were to sue a local government over its eviction moratorium.
“I can’t say I’m shocked that the state attorney general would side with landlords. Nothing he has done to date shows us that we could expect something different,” said Sandy Rollins, executive director of the housing advocacy group Texas Tenants Union. “A lot of tenants are facing eviction in Texas by zero fault of their own, and putting protections that are normal in almost every other state should be allowed in this pandemic.”
According to CityLab, 39% of renters in Texas weren’t certain they could pay their rent in August, but most eviction moratoriums enacted during the pandemic’s initial blow to the economy have expired. That includes moratoriums at national, state, county and city levels. The Texas Supreme Court lifted its statewide moratorium in mid-May. A provision included in the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which delayed evictions for tenants of federally backed housing, expired in late July.
“We think that it is really important that there is a consistent process, and we think that this opinion supports our thoughts the local ordinances were beyond city authority,” said David Mintz, vice president of government affairs for the Texas Apartment Association. “As we’ve done throughout, we will continue to work with our members so that they do as much as they can to avoid evictions, and we still think that the biggest need is rental assistance to help people that need it.”
Disclosure: Steve Adler, a former Texas Tribune board chairman, has been a financial supporter of the Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
BUSTED: Trump administration caught by NYT downplaying COVID risks of reopening schools
Yet another bombshell exposé on the Trump administration ignoring its own scientists was published online on Monday evening.
"Top White House officials pressured the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this summer to play down the risk of sending children back to school, a strikingly political intervention in one of the most sensitive public health debates of the pandemic," The New York Times reported. "As part of their behind-the-scenes effort, White House officials also tried to circumvent the C.D.C. in a search for alternate data showing that the pandemic was weakening and posed little danger to children."
Trump supporters who took hydroxychloroquine for COVID could be denied health insurance if GOP kills Obamacare
One of the bizarre reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic was President Donald Trump continually pushing supporters to take Hydroxychloroquine Sulfate.
While there never evidence the drug could successfully treat coronavirus, Trump began pushing it regardless -- even after his own agencies issued warnings the drug could harm patients.
The people who took the drug, including the president himself, could be denied health insurance.
Larry Levitt, the executive vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, noted that patients who had taken Hydroxychloroquine Sulfate used to receive automatic "medication denials" before Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act during the Obama administration.
Positive coronavirus tests rising in New York: governor
The rate of positive coronavirus tests is ticking up in New York, especially in neighborhoods with large Orthodox Jewish populations, the state's governor Andrew Cuomo said Monday.
Of the 52,936 tests reported Sunday, 834 were positive, or 1.5 percent of the total, tweeted Cuomo.
The positive rate had previously been at one percent for several days.
New York became the global epicenter of the pandemic in spring, recording 23,800 cases in March alone, but in recent weeks officials have touted the lowest test positivity rate and infection rate among major US cities.
While a 1.5 positive rate is still relatively low, it conceals hot spots deemed "worrying" by health authorities, particularly parts of Brooklyn that have large populations of Orthodox Jews.