BALTIMORE — Housing advocates are warning of a tsunami of evictions as Maryland courts began hearing failure-to-pay-rent cases on Monday.
While there's a moratorium on evictions for tenants affected by COVID-19, renters will still need to appear in court and provide documents showing they can't pay their bills because of the pandemic. This includes lost or reduced employment, closure of a place of employment, need to care for a school-aged child, diagnosis or under surveillance for COVID-19.
However, the defense only lasts while a state of emergency is in effect.
"Despite requests from this task force to the court system to the governor to extend the moratorium on evictions through the end of the year, no action has been taken," said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh during a virtual town hall hosted by Frosh's Covid-19 Access to Justice Task Force Monday afternoon.
During the meeting, housing advocates encouraged renters to ready their defense as summons to appear in court start to go out.
"The day that there is no longer a state of emergency according to the governor’s administration, that’s when this defense will fall to the wayside, but for the time being, this is a very strong defense that we encourage everyone to prepare to bring," said Zafar Shah with the Public Justice Center.
Shah added that the order doesn’t waive the requirement to pay rent, it simply protects renters from loss of housing. Meanwhile, renters are being encouraged to work with property owners on creating payment plans.
"It is imperative that residents of rental housing communicate with the property owner or manager if they are having problems paying rent. Our members lose a large sum of money when they evict residents; no one wants to evict a renter," wrote Adam Skolnik, executive director from Maryland Multi-Housing Association (MMHA), in an email to WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii.
According to a recent survey by the MMHA, 22.09 percent of Maryland renters were delinquent in their payments through mid-August with 42.59 percent of delinquent residents owing multiple months of rent.
"It seems to be the attitude amongst a number of government officials that until we see homeless people at our door, we’re not going to pay attention to this issue and that’s just completely wrong and short-sighted and callous," said Matt Hill, an attorney with the Public Justice Center.
Rent relief programs through different city and county governments have provided access to funds, but Hill said they don't come close to addressing the overwhelming need. Hill added that renters should call on the governor and Maryland General Assembly to provide relief through the end of the year.
"We don’t have to do this. People want to pay the rent, no one sits back and says, 'Oh, I can just get by without paying the rent,' everybody knows the rent needs to get paid, but some people are going to need more help paying the rent and that’s the role of government in the middle of a pandemic," Hill said.
Michael Ricci, communications director for Governor Hogan, said they expect the moratorium to remain in place for the forseeable future.
Hill is advising tenants already facing eviction to contact legal services. There are a number of legal services throughout the state that can provide free advice, and in some cases representation. Below is a list of legal assistance and self-help resources:
- Maryland Courts Self-Help Center: 410-260-1392, 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday-Friday
- District Court Self-Help Resource Centers: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; mdcourts.gov/selfhelp
- Maryland Legal Aid (12 offices): www.mdlab.org
- Community Legal Services of Prince George's County, Inc.: 240-391-6370; www.clspgc.org
- Homeless Persons Representation Project: 410-685-6589 (Baltimore City), 410-387-3126 (Montgomery County)
- People's Law Library: www.peoples-law.org (legal information explained simply)
Click here to view a list of additional resources compiled by the MMHA.