Although Alabama is one of the last states to be affected by the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak, but as of mid-March, at least one Alabama patient has been diagnosed with COVID-19.  None of Alabama’s school districts have closed yet, but the school boards have plans to close the schools for deep cleaning if a student, teacher, or school employee comes into direct contact with an affected person.  Around the country, plans to curb the spread of COVID-19 are disrupting many activities.  Some states have even closed the schools and universities and cancelled virtually all public events.  If the federal or state government sets new rules about how to deal with this public health emergency, everyone will have to adapt, including landlords.  If you own a building with rental units, you should make plans now about how to adapt your policies in order to avoid expensive eviction disputes which could arise due to the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak.

It Is in Your Interest to Help Tenants Stay Healthy

The best-case scenario for you as a landlord is if your tenants stay healthy and continue working, thus continuing to pay rent.  These are some measures you can take to help keep your building COVID-19 free, even if many of your tenants have to work from home, and the children have an unexpected break from school:

  • Install hand sanitizer dispensers near doorways and elevators
  • Have common areas in the building professionally cleaned more frequently (including playground equipment, if your building has a playground)
  • Post signs advising tenants about infection control
  • Post signs requiring delivery drivers to leave deliveries outside unit doors instead of making direct contact with residents

When to Enforce Rental Agreements, and When to Be Flexible

The COVID-19 outbreak should not affect most of the terms of the rental agreements in your building.  You are still well within your rights to evict tenants if they bring illegal drugs into your building, vandalize common areas, or repeatedly violate rules about noise.  If tenants are late paying rent, though, you should be more lenient if their reasons for being late are because of COVID-19-related disruptions to their work.  If employers require their employees to stay home from work without pay for several weeks, it could mean that many tenants fall behind on their rent.  Some tenants might lose their jobs simply because they cannot find childcare if the schools close.  Before you move to eviction, you should at least meet with the tenant and discuss their financial situation.  You might even distribute a request form for an extension on paying rent and ask tenants to submit it to you if their reasons for being late with the rent are related to COVID-19, such as school closures or unpaid leave from work.

Let Us Help You Today

You have a right to evict tenants that do not pay rent, but if the tenant stops paying because of a disruption related to COVID-19, the judge might not take your side.  Contact the Alabama eviction attorneys at Cloud Willis & Ellis for a consultation.