Proposed Changes to Maryland Eviction Rules

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, changes to Maryland eviction rules have been proposed. Citing the worsening housing situation due to the virus, state lawmakers and rental housing advocates recently unveiled the “2021 Housing Justice Package.” The package includes several proposed bills that would significantly overhaul Maryland’s eviction rules. While these changes are intended to help tenants at risk of eviction stay in their homes, they have the potential to seriously negatively impact landlords who depend on the rental income to stay financially afloat and pay their mortgages.

The housing package is set to be debated during the current Maryland legislative session that ends on April 12. It also includes proposed emergency renter and homeowner protections. Should the bills pass, landlords who may be confused about their rights under the new rules would be wise to get legal guidance.

One of the bills in the proposed package seeks to extend Governor Larry Hogan’s temporary emergency order issued on March 16, 2020. The current Hogan order prohibits eviction of tenants whose failure to pay rent was related to coronavirus, because they had the disease, lost their job, had their hours reduced due to the pandemic or they had to stay home to care for a school-aged child.

Read on to learn details about the proposed changes to eviction rules and renter and homeowner protection proposals and how these changes might impact landlords if they are passed.

Overhauling the Eviction Process

There are three bills that were developed to overhaul Maryland’s eviction laws, including one that greatly raises the cost of evictions:

  • The Court Fee Reform bill adds a surcharge that increases the state’s eviction filing fee from $15 to $120. It also prohibits landlords from passing the eviction surcharge on to tenants.
  • A Right-to-Counsel bill, if passed, would ensure the right to a lawyer for low-income renters facing eviction.
  • The Eviction Diversion and Defense bill would lengthen the time it takes to evict a non-paying tenant. It establishes a formal court-managed process designed to try to resolve eviction issues through mediation and other means, to avert lawsuits and evictions. It also gives tenants facing eviction more time to find a lawyer and get ready for trial. Additionally, judges would have broader authority to delay evictions in emergency situations.

Emergency Renter Protections Bill

The Covid-19 Eviction Relief Act of 2021 would:

  • Extend the Hogan/CDC orders to protect renters from eviction throughout 2021.
  • Prohibit lease non-renewals without a good reason. Late payment on rent and expiring leases would not be considered good reasons.
  • Prohibit landlords from raising rents and charging interest and late fees during the pandemic.

The bill would also provide financial relief to landlords through a statewide program that matches state and county funds.

Emergency Homeowner Protection Bill

The homeowner’s protection bill would extend previously put in place foreclosure moratoriums for state and federally backed mortgages. This extension applies to both homeowners and small landlords. It would also extend forbearance protections that allow homeowners and landlords to postpone or pay reduced monthly mortgages until the Covid-19 emergency ends.

When homeowners and landlords have exhausted their forbearance options, mortgage services would be required to establish a default repayment option, such as an option to defer missed payments to the end of the loan.

Additionally, the bill would allow homeowners and small landlords to sue mortgage servicers who violate these rules.

Maryland Eviction Rules and Covid-19

While it’s obvious that Covid-19 has created a very real housing crisis in the state, landlords are also faced with a very real problem. Nobody wants to evict another person during such a difficult time. However, most landlords are not wealthy landowners. Many also face grave financial concerns brought on by this pandemic. The possible passage of a new federal stimulus package that includes another round of checks, as well as extended unemployment benefits, may help relieve financial issues for some tenants and benefit landlords as well. But it is yet to be seen what will be in the final stimulus package and what effect it will have. Consulting with a Maryland real estate attorney can provide guidance on navigating these complex situations and understanding the legal implications for both landlords and tenants during these challenging times.

Even though it’s not clear at this time whether these new Maryland eviction rules will pass, it’s not too early to begin understanding them. It can also be valuable to consider other solutions to eviction, such as working out payment plans with tenants to reduce or postpone rent, whenever that may be possible.

Current Rights for Landlords

Even under Governor Hogan’s current emergency order, evictions can still take place if they’ve already had a hearing and the judgement went in the landlord’s favor. There are some limitations on new evictions, though. The Court System is currently in Phase II of its reopening plan, which began on November 20, 2020 and is currently scheduled to end on March 15, 2021. While you can file a new failure-to-pay-rent case, it won’t proceed to a hearing during this phase. During this phase the courts will only hear emergency cases related to breach of leases, tenant holding over and wrongful detainer. After March 15, 2021, the Courts will move to Phase IV and will start hearing Failure to Pay Rent cases.

Eviction Protections for Tenants

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emergency Covid-19 order was extended through March 31, 2021. This order states that tenants can’t be evicted before that time if they give a declaration to their landlords that shows they meet certain conditions. Conditions include:

  • You have a yearly income below $99,000.
  • You made an effort to get government rental assistance.
  • You made an effort to pay at least some of your rent.
  • You can’t pay rent because of medical expenses, job loss or other income loss.
  • You would become homeless if evicted or have to move into crowded housing with others.

Also, under Governor Hogan’s current order, if tenants can show income loss due to Covid-19, this can be used as defense in failure-to-pay-rent and breach-of-lease cases to possibly prevent evictions.

Contact Lusk Law for Answers to Your Questions

There’s no doubt that the changing eviction rules during the Covid-19 crisis are confusing. For questions about how the law impacts you, contact Lusk Law, LLC. Whether you are a landlord or a tenant, we can advise you about how these changes to eviction laws may affect you should they be put into place. In addition, contact your state representatives, if you want to express your opinions regarding the proposed new law. We can also help you potentially avoid the stressful eviction process by counseling you about alternatives, such as payment plans or other solutions that may work for your situation. Our firm handles a full range of landlord-tenant issues. We have the experience needed to help you get the best possible outcome for your circumstances.

Call us at (443) 535-9715 today to schedule a consultation about your matter.