As court hearings resume, rent programs may head off some of ‘eviction explosion’

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – As WTVQ ABC 36 News reported previously, Gov. Andy Beshear is expected to announce a rent assistance and eviction delay program Monday.

And Lexington already is working on a initial $1.9 million in rent and housing assistance that could eventually grow to $3 million. Details will take some shape during Urban County Council committee meetings next week.

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But the programs may not remove all the confusion.

Beshear said as much Thursday when he acknowledged the current status is unclear since his order in March halting evictions still is in place, even though it has been challenged in court.

“Hopefully we ca get it all cleared up and programs in place before people’s 30 days run out,” the governor said, referring to the 30-day notices that are part of the eviction process.

The programs and details can’t come soon enough as eviction hearings will restart Monday in Fayette County and other district courts across the region.

And the dockets already are full, starting with cases backlogged from when courts shut down in March because of the coronavirus plus new ones coming on board, according to a report in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

In Fayette County District Court, 157 eviction hearings are scheduled next week. The following week, the docket shows an additional 143 eviction hearings, the newspaper reported.

While many are old, the courts allowed evictions to be filed beginning Aug. 1. With required notices and paperwork having to be served, cases usually take at least 30 days to get through court.

And the governor’s order blocking evictions also still is in place, the newspaper noted.

Fayette County constables who serve may of the eviction notices to tenants, have started serving papers in new cases. Ed Sparks, one of three Fayette County constables, said his office has started serving eviction notices for nonpayment.

“We are in a no-man’s-land. If a judge signs an order, legally we have to serve it,” Constable Ed Sparks told the Herald-Leader.

He told the newspaper his office has served several eviction notices that were for lease violations, which covers things like having pets when they aren’t allowed to illegal activity.

“I had one non-payment,” the newspaper quoted Sparks as saying, suggesting new rent-nonpaymet evictions haven’t started to stack up yet. “It was old. It was from February and the rent hadn’t been paid in December.”

Sparks told the paper he has been told Fayette District Court judges are reviewing evictions on a case by case basis.

And many agencies that already help low-income and those hit by other circumstances, such as the coronavirus outbreak, already have been working to try to head off what some have said could be “an eviction explosion.”

Legal aid and apartment association members told WTVQ in May they expected the problem to start to peak in October or November.

By the, they ow hope new programs are in place and federal coronavirus relief money that has yet to reach the local level is available.

It’s not clear how many people could face eviction in Fayette County in coming months.

The Herald-Leader reported more than 1,500 Fayette County renters have inquired about rental assistance through the online portal www.covid19renterhelp.org, set up by more than 20 nonprofits in May to help connect renters with assistance.

Brenda Wells, executive director of the Greater Lexington Apartment Association, said she has not surveyed her membership recently. But during a meeting last month, only a few apartment managers said they had one or more tenants struggling to make rent, the newspaper quoted Wells as saying.

“I know our membership has been working with tenants to try to set up payment plans,” Wells told the newspaper. “Although we don’t have a survey or definite numbers, it does not appear to be as bad as we thought.”