Maryland evictions below pre-pandemic levels but could spike this year, judge says

Failure to pay rent eviction claims remains below pre-pandemic levels, a Maryland district court judge told lawmakers last week – but other types of eviction claims are higher than they were before the pandemic.

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Failure to pay rent eviction claims remains below pre-pandemic levels, Maryland District Court Chief Judge John P. Morrissey told lawmakers last week — but other types deportation requests are higher than they were before the pandemic.

Statements of non-payment of rent are the most common type of eviction filing in Maryland. There were over 59,000 reports of rent default in December 2019 alone. The number of rent eviction claims for non-payment last month fell to 23,183.

A mix of federal rent relief funding and court closures has led to the drop in the number of non-payment of rent filings, Morrissey told members of the House Judiciary Committee during a virtual briefing last week. .

Evictions also remained below pre-pandemic levels: there were 22,589 in fiscal year 2019 and 5,546 in fiscal year 2021.

But the number of evictions is climbing.

Morrissey said there were 4,231 evictions in the first half of this fiscal year. And there were 558 evictions in December compared to 378 in December 2020 and 1,114 in December 2019.

Morrissey noted that court operations are currently curtailed due to the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19, and said that while cases of non-payment of rent may still be filed, he does not expect that. that these cases progress before at least March 7.

While new cases of non-payment of rent are not moving forward, Morrissey said other types of evictions and eviction filings that were already in progress before courts scaled back operations are.

In addition to non-payment of rent, there are three other types of eviction cases in Maryland: “tenant withholding” cases are filed when a tenant stays on a property after their lease expires, a “Break of lease” can occur when a tenant violates the provisions of a lease, and a “wrongful holder” can occur when a person who is not a lease holder lives in a property.

Lease breaches and tenant deposits, which are lower than rent defaults, remained above pre-pandemic levels in the second half of 2021, according to Morrissey’s presentation. Tenants who hold deposits were not covered by federal and state eviction protections for tenants that expired last year, and have seen a steady increase throughout the pandemic.

There were 247 break-lease requests in December 2021 compared to 122 in December 2019, according to Morrissey’s presentation, and 446 tenants holding deposits compared to 221 in December 2019.

Gregory Countess, advocacy director for housing and community economic development at Maryland Legal Aid, said tenants who hold deposits have sometimes been used as a “surrogate” by landlords when they can’t file a lawsuit for not -rent payment.

And although Morrissey said he had yet to see the projected “push-out tsunami” that advocates warned of at the start of the pandemic, the Countess said the tsunami was simply “slow-moving”.

With the 2022 session underway, lawmakers are poised to consider reforms to protect tenants from eviction. Some of these proposed reforms include temporarily postponing an eviction when a tenant can prove they have applied for rent relief. Federal rental assistance funding has sometimes been slow to reach tenants and landlords, and fair housing advocates say some tenants have been evicted because of these delays.

“I’ve seen several clients where the landlord has thrown in the towel and they don’t want to wait any longer and they start to evict,” said Melissa Chiasera, an attorney with the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland. legislators.

Landlord advocates again pointed to backlogs: Erin Bradley of the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington said the current time between non-payment of rent and an eviction in the future “could currently exceed more than ‘a year”.

While landlord advocates have argued that long backlogs amount to a de facto moratorium on evictions, tenant advocates say relying solely on backlogs is not a sustainable way to prevent evictions during the pandemic — especially with evictions still ongoing in places like Baltimore.

Lawmakers are also considering raising court filing fees and summary ejection surcharges to fund attorneys for those facing deportation. Although a bill to expand access to a lawyer was passed by the General Assembly last year, a separate measure that would have increased the court costs to pay it was not passed until the adjournment of legislators.

Leah Tulin, special assistant to Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D), told lawmakers at a meeting last year that low filing fees had created a “serial eviction filing problem” in the Maryland even before the pandemic.

Meredith Girard, executive director of Mid-Shore Pro Bono, said access to a lawyer in an eviction case “always leads to better outcomes for the client.”

Grason Wiggins of the Maryland Multi-Housing Association said lawmakers shouldn’t make filing fees universally unrecoverable for landlords, pointing to surrounding jurisdictions like Washington DC and Delaware that allow landlords to recoup filing fees. He argued that it should be up to judges to decide whether the landlord can recover the eviction filing fee from the tenant.

According to the National Equity Atlas, which estimates rent debt based on census and U.S. Treasury data, there are approximately 111,000 rent-delinquent households in Maryland, and 79 percent of rent-delinquent renters in the United States. state are people of color.

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