Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Will Smith Thursday called for an extension of the state’s eviction pause deadline for residents and tenants that are unable to pay rent due to the pandemic.
Smith’s remarks come the very day the state of emergency that Gov. Larry Hogan declared in March 2020 is set to end. However, Maryland’s eviction protections, which some have classified as a moratorium, are not set to expire until Aug. 15.
They require that defendants prove that their inability to pay rent is the direct result of the pandemic.
“We certainly could use more time for those struggling renters to get back on their feet and meet financial obligations ranging from everything from credit cards, car payments, and rent,” Smith, D-Montgomery, told MarylandReporter.com. “It is probably not enough time. We would certainly like to see a little bit more.”
Smith, whose committee was at the forefront of crafting legislation to increase protections for tenants during this year’s legislative session, said he believes landlords have been treated fairly throughout the pandemic.
“The landlords are not going to be left holding the bag here. The federal money is being distributed and will be there. But for the renters to bare the burden of this pandemic is simply unfair…I think that more time would be in the interest of fairness.”
But is that true?
Adam Skolnik, Executive Director of the Maryland Multi-Housing Association, said the question of fairness is somewhat vague. And Skolnik pointed out that the state’s decision to freeze evictions never actually constituted a moratorium in the legal sense.
“Chief Judge [John] Morrissey of the District Court has made it clear that what Gov. Hogan proposed and the way he has viewed the CDC order is that residents or tenants who are renting can use in essence an affirmative defense that they have been impacted by COVID in the event that there is a failure to pay rent case filed against them.”
Skolnik emphasized that members of his organization have gone above and beyond to help struggling tenants remain in their homes.
“Our members have consistently been incredibly communicative to those people that rent in their apartment communities…We will work with you on payments. We will put you in touch with rental assistance. We have been a huge partner with the United Way.”
As for tenants that do not seek help, they should be evicted, Skolnik said.
“If you have a resident who is not paying their rent and is not communicative with their landlord or is not working with a local jurisdiction of the United Way to get rental assistance, then why shouldn’t that person be evicted?”
Del. Brian Chisholm, R-Anne Arundel, said he is glad the governor set August 15 as the deadline for eviction protections to remain in place because going beyond that date would be “insanity.”
Chisholm, who sits on the Health and Government Operations Committee, said pandemic protections have run their course and should end.
“At this point, there are more job openings in the state of Maryland than there are people to work them. And if you can’t find a job right now, you simply aren’t looking.”
Chisholm noted that many landlords are merely individuals who choose to rent out their home or a second home and that many have simply decided to sell out of sheer frustration.
“They got tangled up in this wave of non-evictions and people that were not willing to pay them. So now they just want to sell the home because they have now have equity and they do not want to go through this again.”
Carol Ott, Tenant Advocacy Director of the Fair Housing Action Center of Maryland, echoed sentiments quite different to that of Chisholm.
“The deadline of August 15 is absolutely not a reasonable amount of time for tenants to pay all of the back rent, as many of them owe as far back as mid-2020. This unreasonable, and frankly, cruel deadline, when coupled with the State’s inability to fix the Unemployment Insurance system, will cause thousands of Maryland taxpaying households to be evicted — possibly hundreds of thousands.”
Ott added: “Baltimore City is one of the poorest jurisdictions in the state, with far more people who earn below 50% of the state median income. Not only will this disproportionately affect Baltimore, a majority Black City, but the overall Maryland economy. The governor’s decision to arbitrarily choose August the 15th as the moratorium deadline is both cruel and fiscally irresponsible, and I would ask that the deadline be extended until the end of 2021.”