As rents have risen across Maryland, post-COVID eviction laws could provide an additional buffer for tenants struggling to pay as emergency rental assistance runs out in the coming months.
Despite a slow start, more than 91,000 Maryland renter households have received over $482 million in emergency rental assistance funds through August 2022 according to a recent article in the Herald-Mail by Dwight Weingarten.
With emergency rental assistance almost fully expended and rental rates in Maryland going up, evictions could begin to rise in the coming months. Since the eviction moratorium effectively took place, two important pieces of legislation have made consequential amendments to eviction procedures in the time since the pandemic began.
House Bill 932 was passed during the 2022 General Assembly. This law now requires landlords to accept, at a live eviction, a check if the check is from a political subdivision or a government entity as a payment for the rent in order to avoid eviction.
From a Baltimore Sun article prior to the HB932 passage:
“A representative from Landlords are not legally obligated to accept rental assistance payments, but most want to,” said Adam Skolnik, executive director of the Maryland Multi-Housing Association, a trade association that works with property owners.
Skolnik went on to highlight the low number of evictions that have taken place since the moratorium was lifted as an indication that property owners already possess a willingness to work with tenants.
A more substantial change from the previous year came in the form of House Bill 18 during the 2021 General Assembly. It went into effect as of October 1, 2021 and required landlords to provide a 10-day notice before filing an eviction action against a tenant. Other parts of this bill could play a significant role in eviction prevention but likely not until fully implemented by the deadline of 2025. Those mechanisms are the creation of a right to counsel program for low-income tenants, the establishment of the Access to Counsel (ATC) in Evictions Task Force and a corresponding Special Fund to operate the program.
The first report from the ATC Task Force called for a $30M per year investment for implementation through the deadline of 2025. Following the report, a finance model for the ATC Special Fund began coming together in the 2022 legislative session via SB 662 and SB 279, with additional funds slated to come in from the Maryland DHCD and the Maryland Legal Services Corporation. Initial reports identify some reaming shortfalls in funding and may trigger additional legislation in the coming session in order to close the gap.
These measures collectively represent the possibility of diverting various post-eviction costs from the state and counties, which was certainly a consideration for support of the new provisions. During a Daily Record webinar, Reena Shah from the Maryland Access to Justice Commission noted that there is the obvious cost to the tenants and families, but the state and local governments bear a great burden in eviction procedures and well as homelessness and foster care support services. Allocating resources on the front end of the eviction funnel helps alleviate some of the costs associated with a tenant or families removal from housing.
Shah spoke to another benefit of the legislation by highlighting the fact that eviction is a legal process and of Maryland’s 675,000 filings in 2019, research showed 1% of tenants had representation verses 90% of landlords; therefore representation could stand to dramatically reduce the number cases that result with an actual eviction and costs falling on local governments.
With federal emergency rental assistance slated to run out in early 2023, Weingarten from the daily mail piece noted that, “Wicomico County had 59 cases on the docket Sept. 28 and over 200 cases for the first week in October for failure to pay rent.”