A Huntsville lawyer has filed her first government shutdown-related eviction. With federal workers missing their second pay check Friday and February rent coming due soon, she fears more are coming.
Attorney Sarah Taggart represents landlords statewide in residential and commercial evictions.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this. I’ve done eviction work primarily for the last decade and you see people who have lost their job, that happens that’s just a natural part of the American economy but this kind of wholesale, it's unprecedented," says Taggart.
Taggart says no landlord wants to file an eviction on furloughed workers but they don't really have the flexibility to make exceptions for furloughed workers versus other tenants.
"If this continues much longer it's going to be bloody next month. Landlords are going to be put in an uncomfortable position where they have to pay the notes that they have on their rental property. They have to pay their mortgages and they're going to be put into an uncomfortable position of having to file those evictions on those furloughed workers," says Taggart.
Landlords are in a bind, and tenants are on edge. Holly Ray is an attorney at Legal Services Alabama. She says they are seeing an increase in calls from people who are worried about being able to pay rent.
"People who haven’t gotten paid in January are starting to worry about paying their February rent. Knowing looking down the pipeline, if they’re not working now, they’re not getting that paycheck the first week of February. They know that their rent is going to be late and they want to know what can happen with them," says Ray.
Ray says it is heartbreaking to have people calling into their office and worrying about things they have probably never had to worry about before, like potentially being homeless.
“We are starting to see a spike in people calling for help with rent and utilities. That tends to precede by a couple of weeks the spike in evictions. Folks don’t immediately think about their rent they think about being hungry and then a couple weeks go on and we’re going to see the spike in evictions," says Ray.
Ray says if you receive an eviction notice from your landlord please do not wait for court papers, call legal services.
“Please give us a call as soon as you get it. The more that we can negotiate and let them know your situation and let them know what's going on the better. The vast majority of our property owners in North Alabama are good people and when we inform them that you’re affected by the shutdown they want to keep those tenants," says Ray.
Legal experts say tenants typically only have to be seven days behind on their rent before the eviction starts.
If you know you won't be able to pay the rent and are worried about a possible eviction, Holly Ray says it's best to start the process of preparing your next steps. You can call Legal Services Alabama at (256) 536-9645.