xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Maryland tenants, advocates march to governor’s mansion for rent relief as protections end and courts reopen

Tenants and advocates march on Friday from Annapolis District Court to the Governor's Mansion to urge Gov. Larry Hogan to protect renters in Maryland from eviction. Many people continue to struggle to pay rent because of loss of wages during the COVID-19 pandemic. Courts are scheduled to resume eviction cases on July 25. July 24, 2020.
Tenants and advocates march on Friday from Annapolis District Court to the Governor's Mansion to urge Gov. Larry Hogan to protect renters in Maryland from eviction. Many people continue to struggle to pay rent because of loss of wages during the COVID-19 pandemic. Courts are scheduled to resume eviction cases on July 25. July 24, 2020. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Finding employment has been difficult for Baltimore resident Dina as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. She works five hours a day as a server and receives support from a food assistance program and CASA, an immigration advocacy group in Maryland.

But the bulk of her income is used to support her three children — she has two children in their native Honduras while her 20-month-old baby lives with her. Dina says she was cradling her baby in her arms on one June night when she was evicted because she couldn’t pay rent.

Advertisement

The Baltimore Sun is not publishing her full name due to safety concerns.

“[The landlord] hurt me so much, but I was suffering more because of my child,” said Dina in Spanish. “I thought it was unjust because I never owed him money before.”

Advertisement

Residents and tenant advocates say they’re preparing for a spike in evictions as a federal coronavirus-motivated moratorium ends Saturday, coinciding with Maryland courts reopening and processing pending or already authorized warrants for failure to pay rent.

Tenants and advocates march on Friday from Annapolis District Court to the governor's mansion to urge Gov. Larry Hogan to protect renters in Maryland from eviction. Many people continue to struggle to pay rent because of loss of wages during the COVID-19 pandemic. Courts are scheduled to resume eviction cases on July 25. July 24, 2020.
Tenants and advocates march on Friday from Annapolis District Court to the governor's mansion to urge Gov. Larry Hogan to protect renters in Maryland from eviction. Many people continue to struggle to pay rent because of loss of wages during the COVID-19 pandemic. Courts are scheduled to resume eviction cases on July 25. July 24, 2020. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

An Aspen Institute model estimated as many as 330,000 Marylanders could be at risk by the end of the year. One in five residential rental units is currently delinquent due to closures, furloughs or layoffs among businesses as the coronavirus rages on. Research shows Black families, especially those led by Black women, face eviction at higher rates than white families in Baltimore.

More than 100 people marched in Annapolis Friday, with tenants, housing advocates and lawmakers asking Gov. Larry Hogan to do more to protect those at risk of eviction. Esmeralda Morales of Prince George’s County was one of the people who marched to the governor’s mansion, where protesters symbolically “evicted” Hogan for inaction.

“It has been a very difficult moment for my family. My husband and I don’t have work and the savings that we have are already gone,” Morales told the crowd in Spanish.

Hogan signed an executive order in March prohibiting eviction during the COVID-19 state of emergency if a tenant can show they lost a substantial amount of income due to the pandemic. Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci has said the order is “designed to give tenants a strong defense in any eviction proceedings.”

But one of Maryland’s state senators is worried that tenants struggling with rent will be unable to afford competent attorneys for court proceedings as well.

“If they can’t adequately represent themselves, they have no chance,” said Sen. Jill Carter, a Baltimore Democrat.

Carol Ott, with the Fair Housing Action Center of Maryland, is worried about how the order will work in court due to the lack of experience with a situation of this scale.

“Everybody is confused and frightened about what’s coming, and these are folks who have been doing this kind of work for a really long time,” Ott said. “There aren’t any rules for what to do beyond our normal everyday laws that are at this moment wholly inadequate.”

Normally evictions must take place within 60 days after the court orders a warrant, but the days when the clerk’s offices were closed will not count against deadlines for warrants in effect since March 16, and that also applies to warrants pending or filed between March 16 and July 25. The courts have been allowed to extend those deadlines since July 20.

A Maryland courts spokeswoman said they are still updating internal reports tracking rental court cases. The latest numbers available for January and February show courts statewide have received a total of 41,992 requests for eviction warrants.

Research suggests the odds are stacked against tenants in court. In 2017, for instance, a yearlong investigation by The Baltimore Sun found the system routinely favors landlords over tenants in rent escrow court. Another study prepared by consulting firm Stout Risius Ross for the Public Justice Center found 96% of landlords in Baltimore rent cases had representation, compared to only 1% of tenants.

Advertisement

Hogan, a Republican, has dedicated $30 million in federal funds to help renters, but the coalition of organizations, General Assembly members and tenants at Friday’s march called on the governor to allocate at least $175 million in both state and federal funds to rental assistance and eviction protection.

On Friday, Hogan announced renters living in state-financed housing properties can receive a rent rebate voucher good for four months.

Art Holt, Annapolis, a member of Our Revolution Maryland, holds two "#Cancel The Rent" signs to traffic on Rowe Boulevard. Tenants and advocates march on Friday from Annapolis District Court to the governor's mansion to urge Gov. Larry Hogan to protect renters in Maryland from eviction. Many people continue to struggle to pay rent because of loss of wages during the COVID-19 pandemic. Courts are scheduled to resume eviction cases on July 25. July 24, 2020.
Art Holt, Annapolis, a member of Our Revolution Maryland, holds two "#Cancel The Rent" signs to traffic on Rowe Boulevard. Tenants and advocates march on Friday from Annapolis District Court to the governor's mansion to urge Gov. Larry Hogan to protect renters in Maryland from eviction. Many people continue to struggle to pay rent because of loss of wages during the COVID-19 pandemic. Courts are scheduled to resume eviction cases on July 25. July 24, 2020. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Ricci, Hogan’s spokesman, has said more than $60 million dollars is being invested in preventing evictions when you include local efforts in the total. Ricci did not respond to Friday’s protest.

Baltimore is managing a $13 million coronavirus rental assistance program, and similar initiatives are available in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties.

The additional federal weekly unemployment benefits — $600 — will expire Saturday, creating another dent in the pockets of thousands of renters.

Del. Vaughn Stewart of Montgomery County, a Democrat, said lawmakers need to think “boldly” about a bailout for residents when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

“The time is now to act. The crisis is upon us,” Stewart said. “Gov. Hogan’s moratorium already is filled with loopholes, so even though it’s remaining in effect during the State of Emergency, it’s very unclear how his moratorium is going to play out once the courts reopen.”

Unfortunately, Vaughn and Ott both said evictions are not the only concerns for struggling tenants during the pandemic. Vaughn said there’s “an impending debt collection tsunami” as the courts reopen to allow debt collectors to file wage garnishment notices.

Additionally, Ott said, several college students have already reported their inability to get out of their leases even though they’re unable to return to campus. The tenant advocacy director said landlords are letting students break their lease as long as the families agree to pay the entire balance.

Advertisement

Ott is urging landlords to seek rental funding through other means, such as the $10 million Assisted Housing Relief Program from the Maryland Department of Housing & Community Development.

Advertisement

In the meantime, protesters have demanded an expansion of the eviction moratorium to cover all types of eviction cases. They also want Hogan to extend the moratorium until the public health emergency ends. The protesters want a prohibition on late fees and debt collection on rent beginning now for at least a year after the State of Emergency is lifted.

Those demands would help Marylanders like Morales, who said they’re borrowing money to pay rent.

“Ask Governor Hogan to cancel the rent,” Morales told the crowd in Spanish. “We know it’s our responsibility to pay the rent, but during this time so many families need your support.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Talia Richman contributed to this article.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement