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Rental property tenants shouldn’t be overly fearful of eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic — so long as local courts consider the related proceedings are considered non-essential.

According to attorney Brad H. Bearnson, landlords or property management companies must go through the process of giving notice to their tenants before eviction. The tenants are then given the opportunity for a court hearing, Bearnson said. Depending on the outcome of that hearing an eviction order may be granted and carried out by the Cache County Sheriff’s Office.

“Right now, all but essential functions of the court are shut down,” Bearnson said. “I don’t think eviction proceedings would be considered essential.”

On March 13, Utah Chief Justice Matthew Durrant ordered that though courts would remain open, all nonessential hearings be delayed. An amended order was released nearly a week later stating all criminal and civil jury trials and several court proceedings would be postponed until after June 1.

Bearnson said even when the courts return to business as usual, other court matters may take priority over eviction proceedings.

“In terms of calendaring and getting on the court schedule, none of us really know how that’s going to proceed,” Bearnson said.

According to a press release, the Utah Apartment Association is promoting rent deferment plans for the month of April as a way to accommodate renters experiencing financial stress.

“We recognize property managers may choose to implement rent deferral programs differently, but encourage them to focus on finding a win/win and enabling tenants who agree to a payment plan to stay,” the association states in the release. “We also ask property owners to avoid filing evictions for non-payment due to qualifying reasons in April, when renters communicate and sign rent deferral agreements.”

Bearnson said landlords who manage well will likely be working with their tenants to keep them current during these trying times in the community.

“I don’t think it pays landlords or tenants to be uncooperative,” Bearnson said.

The CARES Act passed by Congress for COVID-19 relief grants some landlords and other homeowners some leeway in paying mortgages. Payments on federally backed mortgages can be suspended for up to 12 months if borrowers have lost income due to the pandemic. Borrowers should contact their servicers to say they’ve lost income as soon as possible to request forbearance.

If faced with an eviction during this time, Bearnson encouraged tenants to be reasonable; the existing lease between tenant and landlord will probably be enforceable.

“If you’re going to have to go to court, you always want to be the adult in the room,” Bearnson said.

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