As omicron fuels a COVID surge, Travis County judges extend waiting period on eviction cases
In response to a rise in the number of COVID cases, judges in Travis County will put eviction trials for unpaid rent on hold for 30 days starting January.
“Judges are required to follow the law, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a heart to try to help people,” Travis County Justice of the Peace for Precinct 5 Nick Chu wrote in a statement. “With the rise of the omicron variant, the courts are doing everything we can to prevent a public health crisis from spiraling into a housing and economic crisis as well.”
Austin Public Health reported 865 new cases on Tuesday. On Dec. 1, there were 179.
Chu said the intent is to give renters more time to access rent assistance, legal aid or to come to an agreement with their landlords outside the courts. Travis County closed its rent help program to new applicants earlier this month, however, and Austin's program has been closed for several months.
Under the judges' order, a landlord filing an eviction with a court will have to wait at least 30 calendar days for a trial. Typically, an eviction case must be heard within seven to 21 days after it is filed with the courts.
The move comes as eviction bans issued by Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown are set to expire Friday. These orders, which have taken various iterations, have been in place since the start of the pandemic. While original versions of the orders banned the vast majority of residential landlords from evicting renters, local officials began loosening restrictions over the summer.
Since the orders have begun winding down, the number of evictions filed in Travis County has risen. Landlords filed, on average, about 53 evictions weekly between late October and early December; in one week in mid-December they filed 93 evictions, according to Travis County numbers collected by Building and Strengthening Tenant Action (BASTA), a nonprofit that works with low-income renters.
As of last week, Adler said he had no plans to extend the city order. Brown told KUT nothing was "off the table," but there were no plans to reinstate one.
The judges' order expires March 1, 2022.