Time-limited Evictions Moratorium Proposal Gets First Hearing in State Legislature

A bill currently before the Maryland General Assembly aims to place a time-limited moratorium on residential evictions.

HB20: Real Property – Residential Rental Property – Annual Eviction Moratorium would halt evictions between December 18 to January 8 of the following year.

Bill author Delegate Mark Chang (District 32 – Anne Arundel) introduced HB20 to the Environment and Transit Committee (ETC) on Tuesday, January 28, 2020 as a bill to give dignity to people who may be suffering or in a difficult situation.

Del. Chang told the committee he shadowed the Anne Arundel Sheriff’s Office during an eviction last December.

“[the eviction process] is a very emotional time…it is very hard on the families being evicted…[it is a hard time] for everyone involved,” he told fellow delegates.

The Maryland Public Justice Center also submitted written testimony in support of HB20.

The organization, which aims to use legal tools to challenge poverty and racial inequity, stated that evictions are a top concern of renters who contact their office.

With their extensive experience in eviction cases, the Public Justice Center highlighted a number of material obstacles tenants face when they are evicted during mid-December to early-January:

  • Charity and government agencies that would otherwise assist a renter facing eviction are closed or have limited hours, cutting off renters from social services.
  • Apartment leasing offices may be closed or have limited hours, an added delay to a renter’s urgent search for new housing.
  • Renters may find that movers are not answering their phones during winter months
  • Friends and family are away or unable to help them move during winter months

Furthermore, the Public Justice Center noted, the Baltimore City Sheriff’s Office already follows an informal procedure of not scheduling evictions during mid/late-December to early-January. The informal procedure has not had adverse consequences.

Finding safe, secure, and affordable rental housing under the above circumstances can be near impossible for renters. There is a clear case for a time-limited moratorium on residential evictions.

However, also present at the ETC meeting on January 28 were two representatives of the Landlord Lobby: the Maryland Multi-Housing Association (MMHA) and MD REALTORS.

Bob Anton, on behalf of MMHA, told the ETC that even though “everyone feels bad,” the Maryland housing industry opposed a time-limited moratorium.

Mr. Anton claimed the landlord, too, suffers during the eviction process.

According to Mr Anton and the MMHA, the landlord must go through a lengthy process (allegedly) to get a court ordered eviction.

After the eviction the landlord has to fix up the unit (I mean, the landlord won’t do it, they’ll likely hire someone to do it for them).

Then the landlord has to advertise the unit to new renters (or, most likely, pay a company to do it for them. Or post a listing on Craigslist).

“While we have sympathy for tenants, we ask [the ETC] for an unfavorable report,” ended Mr. Anton and the MMHA.

Susan Mitchel represented MD REALTORS and gave an arguably worse performance than Bob Anton. She repeated the Maryland Public Justice Center’s point regarding not only Baltimore City Sheriff’s Office, but also Montgomery County’s Sheriff’s Office, implementing informal procedures regarding evictions during mid/late-December to early-January.

MD REALTORS claimed these informal procedures are disruptive to the eviction process and unnecessarily prolong the process. Susan Mitchel asked the ETC on behalf of the Maryland real estate industry to oppose the “unprecedented” bill HB20.

Mitchel’s argument is self-defeating. If the Maryland Public Justice Center written testimony is correct, the Baltimore City Sheriff’s Office handles 70,000 warrants for scheduling and executing evictions each year without adverse consequences. Susan Mitchel’s MD REALTORS testimony states Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office follows a similar procedure, yet the Montgomery County renter housing market has managed to survive thus far.

While evictions themselves should got the way of the dinosaurs, harm-reduction policies in the meantime are of utmost importance. Preventing evictions in Maryland during mid/late-December to early-January is a simple and harmless step towards alleviating our housing crises.

We are fully in support of HB20: Real Property – Residential Rental Property – Annual Eviction Moratorium and hope to strengthen the bill during the legislative process.

We will have a detailed support letter on this issue for the public shortly.

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