COVID-19 legal resources
UW CareLink is here to help navigate legal issues during COVID-19, call 866-598-3978 to make an appointment with an in-house lawyer for a free 30 minute consultation, or get a referral to a local lawyer with a 25% reduction in fees. For now, here are some resources that may be useful:
I have a pending court case will I be able to resolve it?
Many courts around the country are suspending court cases as well as new filings for at least the next two weeks. Some courts have suspended face-to-face hearings but will be proceeding with legal proceedings via electronic means. There has not been a national response dictated to the courts. You will need to contact your local county courthouse or check your county courthouse website for specifics in your area.
What if I cannot pay for my internet service?
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has requested that all major internet carriers agree to the following for the next 60 days.
- Not terminate any residential or small business customer due to their inability to pay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Waive late fees.
- Open Wi-Fi hotspots to anyone who needs them.
Many internet and cell service carriers have published other changes they are also making in addition to the recommendations of the FCC. It is best to go directly to your carrier’s website as many businesses have a link to COVID-19 pertinent information on their websites.
What if I cannot pay my utility bills?
As with the court system, there has not been a direct order from the government in regards to utility delivery. Many local and state-wide providers have advised they will not terminate service or have suspended planned disconnections. There is a link below with some areas of the United States and their utility responses. The best practice is always to go directly to the utility company’s website to see what changes they have made to their services.
What if I cannot pay rent?
While COVID-19 may impact the ability to work and earn a living, it is unfortunately not a legal reason to stop paying rent. The responses from cities or landlords seem to be localized. In general, many courts have shut down and are not allowing new cases to be filed. Landlords cannot use any self-help remedies like changing the locks or throwing your stuff out; it is illegal. While not ideal, if landlords were seeking to evict tenants for failure to pay rent, the court systems around the country will make that process longer than normal hopefully giving more time for your city to enact specific protections or come to an alternative with the landlord. Look to reputable news sources to investigate if your city has put in place any official restrictions. Below are some cities and states that have started to put protections in place.
If your city has yet to formally address the issue you can try to negotiate directly with the landlord. If you reach an alternative agreement with your landlord, even a temporary one for the next 30 to 60 days, get the terms in writing and both sign it.
In addition, some banks have sought to help customers affected by COVID-19. Some bank and lending institutions are below. It is always best to check directly with your bank on the phone or via their website for the most up-to-date information.
Does my landlord have to clean more because of COVID-19?
When it comes to maintenance, there have been no rules put in place to address additional cleaning the landlord has to do in light of COVID-19. The landlord’s obligation still is that they have to provide a habitable place to live. For common areas of a building, as well as any public area, there are steps you can take to minimize your exposure and protect yourself. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a number of suggestions.
I have upcoming travel plans within the United States, should I still go?
The government has yet to formally restrict travel to any state. Many cities and states are recommending against all nonessential travel here in the U.S. and internationally.
I have upcoming travel plans outside the United States, should I still go?
For international travel, the U.S. government has restricted travel for non-U.S. citizens coming into the United States, although there are no restrictions on travel for U.S. citizens. If you are a U.S. citizen and are returning from a high-risk country, you may be subject to additional screening and/or quarantine upon arrival back in the United States. The CDC recommends against non-essential travel to China, Iran, and the majority of Europe at the moment. You can find a risk assessment by country from the CDC.
I received information promising a treatment/vaccine for COVID-19. Is it real?
As of right now there is no approved treatment or vaccine. Be cautious of any information you receive via email or text related to the COVID-19 outbreak. When in doubt, go directly to that company or institution’s website as opposed to clicking on any links in the email. If you receive any items you believe are scams or see evidence of price gouging on essential items, please contact your state’s Attorney General’s Office and file a complaint.
What if I decide I want to cancel my travel plans, will I get a refund?
The eligibility for a refund and/or change fees will vary greatly depending on what type of travel it was and who you booked it with. It is always best to check with your carrier about their policy changes. As phone lines are extremely busy at the moment, many carriers will suggest going online first and only seeking to call if you are within 1-2 weeks of your travel dates to help alleviate congestion for their call centers.
Airbnb has also released changes to their cancellation/fee schedule.
VRBO has not made any site-wide changes as of yet but suggests contacting your host if you are outside of the normal cancellation period.
Seeking an order of protection amid the COVID-19 outbreak
Can I seek an Order of Protection if the courts are closed?
Many courts are closed for non-essential cases due to COVID-19. The vast majority of courts have continued to hear order of protection/restraining order cases and cases involving children’s safety. Several states and counties have published updated lists of cases the courts are still hearing as well as changes to the procedures for those cases. There has yet to be a national mandate for how the courts are to operate so you will need to go to your county courthouse’s website and/or state court site to see if they have published information related to COVID-19.
Some states, such as California, have advised residents to call the police at 9-1-1 with immediate safety issues. The police can have a judge grant an Emergency Order of Protection that will be valid for 30 days instead of the traditional 7 days. These orders in California can be granted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Please check with your local court and/or call your local police precinct to see what assistance the police can be in obtaining an order. If you are fearful for your safety, regardless of whether there is an order in place, call 9-1-1 immediately.
My Order of Protection is going to expire soon, can I get it extended?
If you have a permanent order of protection or temporary order of protection, many counties and states have announced that they will be extending those orders 30-90 days to give additional time to schedule hearings. Many of these extensions are being done automatically, however, you should check with the county courthouse where the order was issued for the specific steps your courthouse is taking or any steps you may have to take. If available, you can also request a copy of the extended order.
I do not feel safe in my home, what if I want to leave?
No state’s stay at home order prevents travel when your personal safety is threatened. Regardless of your living situation, you lose no rights by leaving your residence. With many businesses and services suspended, you may want to call police and/or other city information numbers to see what services are available to seek shelter if you are not planning to stay with friends or family. Your safety is the top priority but when traveling and interacting with other people it is still important to maintain social distance.
Washington state resources
- For many survivors, staying home may not be safe. Futures Without Violence is maintaining a comprehensive information and resources for survivors, communities, and domestic and sexual violence advocacy organizations and service providers.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline offers support through the chat feature on the website or over the phone at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).
- API Chaya supports survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking with people from or affiliated with Asian, Pacific Islander, and Middle Eastern communities.
- Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence provides numerous resources for domestic violence survivors including shelters and local programs.
If I have an order or it was just granted, how do I enforce it? Once the order is granted it will need to be served on your abuser. You will need to provide the court with an address where it is to be served. The order becomes enforceable once your abuser is served with the paperwork. If the abuser violates the order in any way you can contact the police. While an order of protection is a civil order, violations of it carry criminal charges.