Legislation passed in 2021 to provide legal counsel to tenants facing eviction, but did not compel the Governor to fund it – advocates are calling for the funding and service to be provided.
HB 18 passed the General Assembly, with many amendments, providing a variety of protections for tenants facing eviction – most notably a right to legal counsel. Multiple provisions spell out the creation of a special fund and its uses, and a process to encourage local jurisdictions to establish their pwn programs with state support.
The bill, however, contains a pivotal element:
This language is a boilerplate provision establishing a special fund, but not identifying a specific amount or source for its funding.
…and this language, at the end of the segment detailing the special fund, makes the provision of legal services effectively contingent on actual funding being available for the service.
With the new access to counsel rules unfunded as courts work through a backlog of eviction cases — and with many months before the General Assembly reconvenes — fair housing advocates and lawmakers are calling on Hogan to allocate funding for tenants’ access to counsel. In a Tuesday press release, Renters United Maryland urged the governor to use funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to implement House Bill 18.
“By making access to counsel the law in Maryland, Governor Hogan and our legislative leaders have underscored the important role legal representation plays in reducing evictions,” Reena Shah, the executive director of the Maryland Access to Justice Commission, said in the release. “Hundreds of thousands of Marylanders are on the precipice of an eviction tsunami. We thank the Governor for his leadership and urge him to fund the legislation, so we can see the impact this legislation is capable of delivering.”