Responding to an inquiry by Republican state lawmakers, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has issued an opinion warning that local governments do not have the authority to delay or stop evictions.
Paxton said local governments are granted extra powers during a disaster declaration, but not enough to rewrite Texas property law, which details a specific process for evictions.
The Texas attorney general’s opinion is a response to local counties taking steps to slow evictions as federal unemployment benefits end and as the eviction moratorium for federally-back housing provided by the CARES act expires.
Most evictions in Texas have gone on since May, when an order by the Texas Supreme Court pausing eviction proceedings during the pandemic expired.
Some local governments took steps to fill the void. For example, prior to the Texas Supreme Court eviction moratorium, El Paso already had a local disaster declaration ordinance that included a moratorium on evictions. It was extended four times, but evictions are now ongoing since July.
More recently, Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe extended an order last month barring courts from hearing eviction cases and preventing landlords from issuing eviction notices until September 30. His order is cited directly by Paxton in his opinion.
A similar order by Austin Mayor Steve Adler was also recently extended to Sept. 30.
It’s not yet clear if Paxton intends to take action on behalf of the state. For now, his opinion is a gunboat-style threat to counties and cities like Austin. It is also a warning to cities like Houston that are already being pressured by residents to halt evictions.
Even prior to the pandemic, Austin, Houston, and the Dallas-Fort Worth area were among the top 10 worst major metro areas for affordable low-income renter housing.
With more than 3 million Texans filing unemployment claims since March and with local and federal eviction moratoriums expiring, housing insecurity in the state will soon explode.
Much of the relief for that looming suffering will depend on the timeliness and effectiveness of a congressional response. For now, negotiations continue to be stalled. Democrats are pressuring Republicans into passing a $3.4 trillion relief package passed by the House in May.
“For more than 12 weeks, Republicans have blocked the critical coronavirus relief included in the Heroes legislation Democrats swiftly passed,” said Houston area Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee on Saturday. “Americans are losing their lives and livelihoods and are being told to pause while Republicans play partisan politics during the most deadly health crisis our Nation has faced in more than 100 years.”
Photo: Office of the Texas Attorney General