(NBC) - Tenants are being put in the precarious situation of having to endure hostility or leave their homes in the midst of a public health crisis.
Sada Jones anxiously paces inside her apartment every time she catches a glimpse of her building’s maintenance workers through a damaged glass patio door half boarded up with scrap wood that she says her landlord refuses to repair.
Jones, 23, a hotel cook, has been unable to make rent payments on her New Orleans-area apartment since being furloughed on March 19 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, she alleges, her landlord began using aggressive tactics to force her out, including cutting off her utilities and sending maintenance workers to demand she leave.
“I’m scared because I don’t want to move with the situation that’s going on with COVID, but I also don’t want to live in these conditions,” she said. “I’m constantly anxious and paranoid about what they’ll do next. I don’t feel safe.”
Despite efforts by many jurisdictions to halt evictions either through formal moratoriums or court closures, some landlords have taken matters into their own hands with illegal “self-help” evictions and have been harassing and intimidating tenants like Jones who are unable to pay rent — many due to pandemic-related job loss — in an effort to get them out.
These tenants, many who are waiting on unemployment or stimulus checks, are put in the precarious situation of having to endure hostility or leave their homes in the midst of a public health crisis.
Amanda Golob, managing attorney of the housing law unit at Southeast Louisiana Legal Services in New Orleans, said her office has seen several abusive tactics from landlords, including changing locks, cutting utilities, refusing to make essential repairs and constant harassment via phone calls and text messages: “They are creating an environment that forces the tenant to leave on their own.”
Similar incidences of self-help evictions, which are a violation of the law in most jurisdictions, have been reported by housing organizations across the country since the onset of the pandemic.
Nearly 30 percent of respondents to a survey by the National Fair Housing Alliance said they've experienced an increase in fair housing complaints, incidences or calls since mid-March, when most states went into COVID-19 lockdowns.
Complaints could become more prevalent as the backlog of evictions builds and landlords' frustrations mount, housing experts said.
“We have seen both prior to pandemic and during pandemic some landlords will resort to intimidation or other tactics to push their tenants out. It is certainly possible that given the increasing economic pressure that both families and landlords are under that that could increase,” said Alieza Durana, a writer and spokeswoman for the Eviction Lab at Princeton University.