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Legislature debates whether Wyoming rent assistance should be paid to tenants or landlords


CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming Legislature is considering legislation during their Friday, May 15 special session that would include providing for rent assistance and the avoidance of evictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The sections of House Bill 1002 and Senate File 1002 relating to rent assistance contemplate appropriating up to $10 million toward this purpose. Other aspects of the proposed legislation relate to worker’s compensation and unemployment benefit programs.

The $10 million for rent assistance would come from $1.25 billion in federal Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act qualifying funding which have been received by the state or from future federal funding the state may receive.

That funding would be “for establishment and operation of a temporary program for payment of rent and avoidance of evictions for persons impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Legislative Service Office explains.

The initial language of the bills under consideration in both chambers contemplates making payments to property owners. However, amendments are pending in both chambers which would instead direct payments to tenants to use the funding to make rent payments.

House Minority Floor Leader Cathy Connolly explained that the legislation as drafted would make assistance payments to landlords who can demonstrate they have experience a loss of rental income of 25% or greater within the 90 day period following the governor’s declaration of the public health emergency March 13.

Under the legislation as drafted, landlords would receive “monthly payments in the amount of monthly lost rental income, continuing until the governor orders that payments under the program shall stop or until December 31, 2020, whichever occurs first, but in no event for less than ninety (90) days from the effective date of this act.”

Connolly explained that the bill would require “landlords…to certify that loss is due to one or more tenants’ loss of jobs.” The bill would also make rent assistance available to landlords whose tenants experienced a reduction in work hours as a result of the pandemic.

Since the legislation as drafted would require landlords to demonstrate that the loss of rental income was the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, House District 36 Representative Art Washut asked whether landlords would be able to demonstrate a connection between the loss of rent income and the pandemic.

“My concern here is, will the landlords always know what the underlying reason for nonpayment is?” he asked. “I’m not sure the landlords are always going to have that information.”

Connolly noted that proposed amendments would make the program tenant driven rather than landlord driven. She explained that under the initial language of the legislation, the Wyoming Community Development Authority would be tasked with oversight of the program and would establish rules for landlords to certify the cause of their loss of rent income.

House District 05 Representative Shelly Duncan said that she preferred keeping the program landlord driven by making payments to landlords rather than to tenants.

“I am actually in this business, I actually live it daily,” she said. “I personally have had 4-5 tenants immediately instruct me they were laid off or were going to be laid off. Those landlords that can have assisted, those that can’t haven’t.”

Duncan said that if payments were made to tenants, there would be no guarantee that they would pay landlords for rent owed. She added that the WCDA is well set-up to oversee the program as drafted and that they could create simple ways for landlords to demonstrate that their loss of rent income is due to a tenant losing employment.

She said that might include requiring landlords to obtain a statement from a tenant that they had lost employment and possibly a statement from the tenant’s most recent employer.

Connolly noted that the legislation as drafted would prohibit any landlord who receives assistance from evicting tenants for failure to pay rent.

The proposed amendments to the legislation in both chambers of the legislature would instead make payments to tenants or homeowners.Under that proposal, the program would “provide rent, security deposit, mortgage payment and hazard insurance assistance for residents of this state who are under the direct threat being dispossessed of their homes.”

The amendment would also raise the amount of funding dedicated to the program to $15 million rather than $10 million.

The House passed the legislation as drafted on first reading Friday. The amendments could be considered on further readings.

Since both the House and Senate are working on mirror bills, if the legislation passes, a joint committee would be assigned to reconcile differences. Only one of the two bills originating in the two chambers could ultimately be passed into law.

The Wyoming Department of Health provides COVID-19 case, variant, death, testing, hospital and vaccine data online. The department also shares information about how the data can be interpreted. COVID-19 safety recommendations are available from the CDC.