ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A federal freeze on most evictions enacted last year is scheduled to expire July 31, after the Biden administration extended the date by a month. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. Many of them lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and had fallen months behind on their rent.
Landlords successfully challenged the order in court, arguing they also had bills to pay. They pointed out that tenants could access more than $45 billion in federal money set aside to help pay rents and related expenses.
Advocates for tenants say the distribution of the money has been slow and that more time is needed to distribute it and repay landlords. Without an extension, they feared a spike in evictions and lawsuits seeking to boot out tenants who are behind on their rents.
As of June 7, roughly 3.2 million people in the U.S. said they face eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The survey measures the social and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic every two weeks through online responses from a representative sample of U.S. households.
Here’s the situation in Maryland:
WHAT’S THE STATUS OF EVICTION MORATORIUMS IN THE STATE?
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has extended the state's moratorium on evictions through Aug. 15. The state's moratorium provides a legal defense for tenants if they can show a substantial loss of income from COVID-19. The People's Law Library of Maryland says qualifying situations include a substantial decrease in income due to job loss, reduction in compensated hours of work or the need to miss work to care for a school-age child. A judge decides in each case whether sufficient evidence has been provided.
WHAT’S BEING DONE TO HELP PEOPLE FACING EVICTION?
Maryland has been allocated about $719 million from federal stimulus funds for emergency rental assistance, according to the state's Department of Legislative Services. Of that, about $462 million was provided to the state government, and the remaining $257 million was given directly to local governments, the department said. These allocations are from two different pieces of federal stimulus legislation, and each has its own time frame for when the funds need to be spent.
Maryland lawmakers passed two measures this year to help people facing eviction. One codified access to legal assistance, though a measure to pay for it by increasing court filing fees failed late in the legislative session. Advocates are urging state officials to find funding elsewhere. The bill that passed also requires landlords to wait 10 days after filing a notice to evict to begin eviction proceedings. The second measure is aimed at helping tenants whose formal written lease has expired. It requires landlords who plan to end a month-to-month lease to give tenants two months' notice.
HOW ARE THE COURTS HANDLING EVICTION HEARINGS?
Maryland courts are fully operational, though they are still enforcing social distancing, which leads to smaller dockets. District courts are hearing landlord/tenant cases, including failure to pay rent and breach-of-lease cases. Judges have been making determinations about how much rent is due in such cases, and they have been deferring judgments until such time as the moratoriums expire. “Sometime after Aug. 15, I’m assuming that the judges are going to begin then entering those judgments, and after that the landlords ... if rent has not been paid, would be able to start eviction actions," said Gregory Countess, director of advocacy for housing and community economic development with Maryland Legal Aid.
WHAT IS THE AFFORDABILITY IN THE STATE’S MAJOR RENTAL MARKETS?
In Baltimore, Columbia and Towson, the overall median rent was $1,600 in May, up 6.7% over the past year. The median two-bedroom rent was $1,700, up 5.5%.
ARE EVICTIONS EXPECTED TO CREATE A SURGE IN HOMELESSNESS?
It's hard to say how much homelessness could increase when the moratoriums expire. But Countess said a survey has found that more than 200,000 families in the state are behind on rent. “Undoubtedly, there’s going to be a big increase in homelessness, if we don’t ... have in place an infrastructure that’s going to get rental assistance to folks so that they can pay their past due rent," he said.