What Tenants and Landlords Need to Know During COVID-19
Back in March, when it felt like the rug had been pulled right underneath us all, fear and uncertainty became the status quo. Children were sent home from school, parents were moved to telework or laid off as the effects of the novel coronavirus began to make themselves known in our state. Uncertainty about the future of schools. Worries about job and financial security. Add to that the fear many Maryland residents experienced surrounding their living situation. With no income, how would they pay rent, let alone buy groceries or pay other bills? On top of everything else, were they also facing eviction?
The governor stepped in and issued all manner of emergency orders and new guidance for tenants in an effort to provide some protections, at least for a little while. But how did these measures effect the landlords of these rental properties? They, like their tenants, were now facing months of little to no income, but were still responsible for the upkeep on their properties.
What protections are available to tenants and landlords during these (yup, we’re going to say it…) unprecedented times? Read on to find out!
Maryland Governor’s Emergency Order
In one of his first responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Larry Hogan held a press conference on March 16, 2020 and issued an emergency order which outlined, among many other things, “Relief for Residents and Families”. This emergency order laid out prohibitions on utility shutoffs as well as evictions. These prohibitions state that if a customer or tenant can prove their failure to pay for services or rent as a result of COVID-19, their services could not be shut off and they could not be evicted. According to the governor’s emergency order, these prohibitions are to remain in place “until the state of emergency is terminated and the proclamation of the catastrophic health emergency is rescinded.”
The CDC Steps in…
In the beginning of September, the CDC reinstated a nation-wide moratorium on rental evictions after the ban established by the CARES Act expired. This new law covers everyone living in the more than 43 million rental properties across the United States and expires on December 31, 2020. The ban issued by the CDC requires that tenants who fall behind on their rent meet five requirements in order to qualify for eviction protection:
- You’ve utilized your “best efforts” to seek financial assistance
- You expect to earn less than $99,000 (or $198,000 if filing jointly) in 2020
- You can’t pay your rent because of lost income or medical expenses
- You’ve tried to pay as much of rent as you can in a timely manner
- If you were evicted, you’d become homeless or have to live in a shelter
The CDC’s ban does not affect or replace state-specific bans unless they are as broad or broader than the one established by the CDC.
Landlords and Moratoriums
There are two sides to every story, so it’s important we look at how these moratoriums and executive orders affect the landlords of the aforementioned 43 million rental properties within the U.S. These temporary bans have prevented landlords from evicting tenants who were behind on rent before COVID-19 hit. When Governor Hogan enacted his state-wide ban in March, he essentially protected the tenants who were already behind, providing them with months of free housing, even after defaulting on their lease.
These orders and protections only consider the welfare of the tenants during the coronavirus pandemic. There was no mortgage relief or forbearance on maintenance and tax obligations. Even though they too were without an income, they were still financially responsible for the upkeep and taxes on each property they own/owned.
Court Summons & Eviction Hearings
As long as the above order from Governor Hogan is in effect, any tenant called to appear in court for a “failure to pay rent” notice has a defense against eviction. As long as you can prove that your failure to pay was due to COVID-19. This could mean not only suffering a loss of income, but having the virus yourself or needing to care for your school-aged children. You must make your court appearance, though! And you’ll need to provide substantial proof—documentation showing loss of wages or hours, bank statements showing fewer deposits, etc. Be sure to also bring with you your court summons as well.
It is important to note that COVID-19 is not a guarantee nor is it blanket protection for tenants against eviction. While the protections and relief packages for tenants are numerous in the state and nationwide, there are certain situations where the landlord may actually have the upper hand in the courtroom, even during these imposed bans. For instance, if a tenant was already behind on their rent before COVID-19 or if you, the landlord, recently sold the property and your tenants refuse to vacate could make your case for eviction a little more substantial.
What happens when the moratorium ends?
Just because there has been a moratorium on evictions and the application of late fees, doesn’t mean that renters are off the hook for paying these last several months’ worth of rent. As courts in Maryland resume eviction hearings, more and more tenants are receiving court summons from their landlords for failure to pay rent. Tenants will need to prove any financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While there are some state and federal assistance programs, many renters and renter advocates are concerned the sum total needed to protect Maryland residents and prevent widespread homelessness is far too great.
Let us help!
If you find yourself in a sticky situation with your tenant or landlord, know that there is help available! Our firm has remained opened throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with an unwavering commitment to serving our clients and our community. Our skilled attorneys will work with you every step of the way to help you reach your goals! Give us a call today at (410) 535-6100 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.