Eviction hearings in the Austin area will be put on pause until at least April 1, after Travis County justices of the peace issued an order Friday.
“It’s not in the public’s interest to have people out in public trying to look for housing or if they become homeless have no way to social distance themselves,” Justice of the Peace for Precinct 5 Nick Chu told KUT. “People will then need to decide – I can’t pay rent because I’m an hourly worker, so I have to decide on going into work sick and possibly spreading this virus or not having a home. We want to try to ease as much of that calculation as possible during this situation.”
City and county officials said Thursday they were considering ways to help people with housing costs during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Friday afternoon, three people had tested positive for the disease in Austin.
Writs of possession, which give the county constable a right to forcibly remove someone from their home after they’ve been evicted, will also be stalled for 60 days. An appeal to an eviction ruling heads to county court, which has not yet issued a stall like this one.
The justices have also extended the time someone has to show up for a traffic ticket.
On Thursday, the Texas Office of Court Administration issued new guidelines recommending lower courts delay or conduct nonessential court proceedings by phone or video.
Austin Energy also announced Friday morning it would suspend all shutoffs of utilities due to unpaid bills since some people may lose wages during the COVID-19 pandemic. For most customers, this includes electricity, water, trash collection and recycling.
Austin Energy spokesperson Jennifer Herber said that since more people are likely working from home, energy bills could also be higher and more unaffordable.
“People are going to be at home longer than they normally are, so they’re actually going to be using more electricity, more water,” she said. “Your bill might be a little bit higher.”
Those who have trouble paying a utility bill can get on a deferred-payment plan or receive direct financial assistance from the city.