The LWV of United States Impact on Issues states: ”When families or individuals cannot afford decent housing, government should provide assistance in the form of income and/or subsidized housing.”
The COVID pandemic has caused thousands to lose their jobs and be unable to pay their rent. While there is a federal moratorium on evictions through January 31, renters must prove their inability to pay is as a direct result of loss of income, and it does not prevent other actions by landlords that can cause a family or individual to lose their rental home. Marylanders also have some protections under an order by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr., which put a halt to certain evictions for those who took a financial hit due to the coronavirus pandemic. That order will be active as long as Maryland’s state of emergency continues.
The state allocated $30 million in federal relief funding toward eviction prevention and rental relief earlier this year, but advocates have warned that it’ll take much more than that to curb evictions. The second Federal COVID relief package recently passed contains $25 Billion in rental assistance but it will take time for that assistance to filter down to states and to those who need it.
Up to 204,000 Maryland households are at risk of eviction, according to estimates from the Chicago-based consulting firm Stout. While tenants are protected by state and federal stays on certain evictions, some are still losing their homes. Over 115,000 eviction cases were filed from July to November in Maryland, and Maryland District Court Judge John P Morrissey said there were about 2,571 evictions in Maryland during that time period..
Renters United Maryland said 36% of Black households are not current on their rent, compared to 14% of white households. About 30% of households earning less than $50,000 are also behind compared to just 10% of those earning more than $75,000.
Housing bills will most likely be heard in the House Environment & Transportation Committee, and the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
A Housing Justice Package of 5 bills for the upcoming session was unveiled Dec. 28 by a statewide coalition of rental housing advocates and state representatives:
- Eviction Diversion and Defense, sponsored by Baltimore City Del. MelissaWells and Sen. Charles Sydnor requires pursuing early rental assistance before suing to evict. It establishes a formal, two-phase proceeding and Eviction Diversion Program, which enables renters and landlords to engage financial and legal services. This proposed bill provides renters time to seek counsel, to raise a defense and to prepare for trial — also giving judges broader power to delay eviction in emergency situations, according to the package.
- Court Fee Reform bill, sponsored by the Attorney General's Office, establishes an eviction surcharge that effectively raises Maryland courts’ rock-bottom $15 court fee for evictions to the national average of $120.The idea would be that a surcharge creates further incentive for landlords to work with renters on payment plans, while also lowering the state’s volume of eviction litigation. It could also relieve state courts and free up tax revenue to be used on court infrastructure or services, according to the package. The proposed legislation would prohibit the pass-through of that eviction surcharge onto renters, and it directs the surcharge revenue to funds for civil legal services.
- Right to Counsel sponsored by Del. Wanika Fisher and Sen. Shelly Hettleman would provide low-income renters with the right to an attorney in eviction cases. The package argues right to counsel largely reduces housing displacement and stands to save the state "significant costs." One study cited showed an investment of $5.7 million in right to counsel in evictions, in Baltimore City, would save the state $18.1 million in Medicaid and foster care spending alone.
- COVID-19 Eviction Relief Act of 2021 sponsored by Del. Jheanelle Wilkins and Sen. Will Smith expands and extends the Hogan/CDC orders to protect renters from eviction throughout 2021.It provides financial relief for landlords through a statewide program that matches state/county funds. It prohibits lease non-renewals without a good cause, rent delinquency and lease expiration are not considered good causes for lease termination. It prohibits late fees, interest charges, and rent increases throughout the emergency.
- Emergency Homeowner Protections sponsored by Del. Vaughn Stewart and Sen. Jill Carter would extend a foreclosure moratorium through the state of emergency, for both homeowners and small landlords, across state and federally-backed mortgages. The proposed bill requires mortgage servicers to grant forbearance relief through the state of emergency and — for both homeowners and small landlords who have exhausted forbearance options — to establish a default repayment option such as deferring missed mortgage payments to the end of the loan. Late fees would be banned. Prompt notice would be required of all the rights to homeowners and landlords. A private right of action would be created for homeowners to sue servicers who violate the law. For a year following the emergency, servicers could not furnish negative credit information to consumer reporting agencies related to mortgage payments.