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Time to reform Maryland’s eviction laws | READER COMMENTARY

Left, Keyri Villa Torr, 12, holds a "Gov Hogan don't evict us!" above her head as tenants and advocates march 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. July 24, 2020.
Left, Keyri Villa Torr, 12, holds a "Gov Hogan don't evict us!" above her head as tenants and advocates march 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. July 24, 2020. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Bravo to Brian Frosh, Maryland’s attorney general, for his recent commentary reminding us of the constant threat of eviction that hangs over the heads of Maryland’s tenant households and bravo also to three members of the General Assembly, Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg (Baltimore City), Sen. Shelly Hettleman (Baltimore County), and Del. Wanika Fisher (Prince George’s County) who pledge to introduce legislation in the 2021 General Assembly session that will provide legal counsel for tenants in eviction lawsuits (”Lawmakers: People facing eviction should have legal counsel,” Dec. 18).

Maryland’s eviction process is by far one of the cheapest for landlords and most hazardous to tenants in the U.S. It begins if the tenant is a few days late in paying rent when, for a fee of $15, the landlord can file an eviction suit in Rent Court. The national average fee in other states is $120. The process can then move quickly from filing to actual eviction within 10 days. To avoid the misery and sudden upheaval of eviction, most tenants will scramble to find whatever funds they can. Some succeed, many don’t.

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Landlords rarely appear in court but are represented by their lawyers. Tenants rarely have a lawyer, but when they do, over 90% prevail and eviction is avoided. This process has existed in Maryland for decades, accompanied by much hand-wringing but not much action. It has turned Rent Court into a rent collection agency where the balance strongly favors the landlord.

Requiring legal representation for tenants is an important step in achieving fairness. Other steps should follow.

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Joanne Nathans, Baltimore

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