An eviction or a foreclosure crisis could be looming in Maryland, according to advocates and lawmakers.
Sunday marked the end of the state’s eviction protections for renters and tenants under which they could make an affirmative defense against that course of action provided they could prove their inability to pay rent was the direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.
A federal moratorium on evictions for COVID-19 hotspots applies to virtually all of Maryland but it expires on Oct 3. And pleas to Gov. Larry Hogan to reinstate the state of emergency have been unsuccessful.
“I’m afraid our state government, including the governor’s office, doesn’t appear to have a handle on what’s happening to the residents of our state, and what this is doing to our economy,” Fair Housing Action Center of Maryland Tenant Advocacy Director Carol Ott told MarylandReporter.com.
Ott added: “I’ve read that as many as 250,000 families could lose their homes to eviction statewide, and it’s important to note that many families have already been evicted, due to the “lease renewal loophole” that allowed many landlords and management companies to not renew a tenant’s lease during the pandemic. As such, I of course expect many more to be evicted, and it’s disturbing to see that our state and federal governments are doing little to stop it.”
Ott said the law provides landlords with more protection than tenants.
“Landlords can deduct up to $25,000 of rental income losses from their federal taxes, and ask their mortgage companies for forbearance. Tenants have no such resources, beyond asking their local governments for help. The CDC is merely kicking the can down the road with its “moratoria”, and by lifting the state protection, the governor simply opened the floodgates ahead of the rising waters. It’s nothing short of fiscal irresponsibility.”
Sen. Will Smith, D-Montgomery, emphasized that it is not too late for Hogan to reinstate eviction protections and avert a potential crisis.
“The governor should go ahead and extend that. It is imperative that he extend it because we are still very much in the midst of the pandemic. And with the Delta variant coming and the projections for the fall not looking so good, I think it would be wise on his part to do that.”
Smith is chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. He stressed that the committee spent a significant amount of time crafting eviction protection legislation during the recent session but that still more could have been done to protect renters.
“We passed out some massive support for not only for unemployed workers, but for tenants as well. We put in tenant protections. One thing that we can do now while we are not in session is urge the governor to extend that moratorium.”
Hogan’s communications director, Michael Ricci, defended the governor’s decision to let eviction protections expire, noting that since the beginning of the pandemic the state has committed substantial resources to help keep Marylanders in their homes and that now local governments should step up their game.
“Going back to last year, before there were any federal aid programs in place, Maryland has been working to help keep people in their homes, delivering more than $123 million in relief. Based on consultations with a bipartisan workgroup of legislators, the state has focused on getting aid directly to tenants through local jurisdictions. We continue to urge counties and localities to get relief out the door as quickly as possible.”
Del. Brian Chisholm, R-Anne Arundel, said the prospect of a mass wave of evictions is rather unlikely because that would put a substantial burden on landlords.
“It is cheaper to keep a person in your home if you can restart the clock to have them pay you.”
Chisholm, who sits on the Health and Government Operations Committee, said he is “concerned” that rent forbearance policies could eventually lead to some smaller landlords losing their homes due to delinquent tenants.
“Instead of having mass evictions, we are going to be having mass foreclosures.”
Chisholm also said he has doubts about whether rental assistance funds are making it to their intended recipients.
“I don’t know if that even makes it to the landlord 90% of time.”