Evictions resume following COVID-19 delays in Smith County

Eviction Hearings Resume Thursday

TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - Time is running out for Texas tenants who are behind on rent and are now at a higher risk of being evicted.

Despite a federal halt on evictions through June 30th, the Texas Supreme Court’s emergency order expired on March 31st.

As a result Smith County Precinct 2 Judge Andy Dunklin heard many stories of struggle and need today in court as he resumed eviction hearings today.

“We have more apartment complexes than any other precinct. Matter of fact, we have more apartment complexes in this precinct than all the others combined,” Dunklin said.

Dunklin had about 20 cases today on the docket where both tenants and property managers shared their situations. Darrell Guthrie is a property manager and said in the last year everyone has been impacted.

“We have received, what I would call a sharp rise in stagnated payments. Tenants that have paid us consistently for years that have had to be laid off, restaurants, bars, those kinds of things and it’s been a slow process getting back up to speed,” Guthrie said.

Another property manager said they do everything they can to work with their residents and an eviction is close to the last resort because they also have financial needs.

“A lot of people can’t help that they got laid off for several months. And we’re a devout Christian small business and we try to work it out with as many people as we can,” he said. “But sometimes it’s just, we also have a business to run and we also have to make money.”

Throughout the hearings Dunklin asked if the tenants were reaching out to rental assistance programs such as Texas Rent Relief and PATH. Andrea Wilson is the executive director for PATH and said the need for rental assistance has doubled in the last year.

“The onslaught of the number of families who needed help when Texas no longer recognized the CDC moratorium on evictions skyrocketed beyond our ability,” she said.

In February, Wilson said Smith County was awarded seven million dollars to help with rental assistance and asked PATH to help administer those funds.

“We’ve been able to spend about 500 thousand dollars to keep families housed just in the last 60 days,” Wilson said. “It keeps those families housed, which is such a critical need. But two, it’s providing support to our landlords who are business owners here in Smith County.”

Wilson said they expect the seven million dollars to help with rental assistance through the end of this year.

If you’d like to see if you qualify for rent assistance you can visit PATH’s website.

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