The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The national eviction moratorium is set to expire. Here’s what that means for Maryland and Virginia.

Activists erect a sign in support of an eviction moratorium in Swampscott, Mass., on Oct. 14. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

Come Sunday morning, tenants spiraling toward eviction will wake up in vastly different situations depending on which corner of the Washington region they call home.

That’s because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium — the key federal policy shielding millions from displacement — is due to expire on July 31.

All that will remain for the estimated 6.5 million tenants on the edge of eviction nationwide will be a patchwork safety net of state laws and emergency executive orders — not enough, housing advocates warn, to stop the flood of coming evictions that will hit the country next month as coronavirus cases spike due to the Delta variant.

In the District, Maryland and Virginia — where an estimated 1.15 million to 1.64 million tenants are at risk of eviction — the protections in place for tenants during the pandemic have run the gamut from sturdy to now nonexistent.

D.C.'s eviction moratorium has essentially halted all eviction cases, protecting tenants until late September. In Virginia, however, protections for renters already expired at the end of June. Maryland’s protections, tried to an executive order from Gov. Larry Hogan, will expire Aug. 15.

Housing attorneys in both Maryland and Virginia say that when the CDC moratorium expires over the weekend, the impact will register immediately on the respective housing landscapes. Tremors are already being felt.

Evictions are about to restart as tenants wait on billions in unspent rental aid

In Virginia, housing courts have seen an increase in filing since June, according to Dipti Pidikiti-Smith, the deputy director of advocacy for the Legal Services of Northern Virginia. “If before we were seeing an average of 13 to 18 eviction cases filed per week, after the expiration of the state of emergency, we’ve been seeing 20 and 30 and 40 cases a week,” she said.

In Maryland, housing advocates are bracing for the next burst of cases after the weekend. “There will soon be no protections, so we anticipate thousands of judgments or eviction orders in August because of the expiration of those protections,” said C. Matthew Hill, an attorney with the Public Justice Center in Baltimore. “We are also so far behind in terms of doing any effective eviction diversion.”

Efforts to help people avoid eviction have been stymied by the slow distribution of federal rent relief by local governments. Nearly $46.5 billion has been funneled to state and local governments to help tenants hurt by pandemic-related job loss pay off back rent.

But as a recent Washington Post investigation revealed, six months after the first round of $25 billion for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program was signed off by President Donald Trump, only 12 percent of the money has been reached renters. Less has been spent of the second round of rent relief money — $21.5 billion — approved by President Biden in March.

As of May 5, five of the 15 counties in Maryland and Virginia in the region, including the each state’s most populous counties, had yet to spend any federal money on rent. The local pipelines for distributing that money in Maryland and Virginia have since gotten payments out to more tenants. But according to Hill, the effort in Maryland has not reached everyone in need.

“With the CDC moratorium expiring, we’re going to be restarting evictions just as rental assistance is getting up and running,” he said. “But we need more time.”

In Virginia, eviction protections were tied to the commonwealth’s state of emergency. Under that provision, landlords were required to tell delinquent tenants about rent relief programs and were not allowed to file evictions against tenants for nonpayment of rent unless the renter had refused to apply for relief money.

According to Pidikiti-Smith, the state provision gave tenants a protective layer at the beginning of the process, forcing the landlord and tenant to work together for relief money. If that step failed, the CDC moratorium served as a backstop to removal.

The Virginia protection, however, expired with the commonwealth’s state of emergency on June 30. Currently, landlords are required to provide a 14-day notice before filing an eviction, and tenants who can prove they lost income due to the pandemic can apply for a 60-day delay in the case.

Renters thought a CDC order protected them from eviction. Then landlords found loopholes.

The Maryland protections were also tied to an executive order signed by Hogan initially in March 2020 and extended throughout the pandemic. Under the policy, courts were prohibited from evicting tenants from property if the renters were able to “demonstrate to the court, through documentation or other objectively verifiable means” that they had lost income due to the pandemic.

The issue with the order, according to Hill, is that it put the onus of proving loss of income on the renter. The CDC moratorium, however, only required the tenants sign a sworn statement that they had been negatively affected by the virus’s spread. “So the CDC order was a little bit easier to qualify for, you provided a declaration and in many jurisdictions that was taken at face value,” he said.

The state protection requires additional proof on the tenant’s behalf — one that many low-income renters don’t have.

“Many of the people we represent were laid off without a single piece of paper,” said Charisse Lue, another attorney from the Public Justice Center who represents tenants. “They were never given notice, not even an email. One day they had a job and the next day they didn’t. So it’s especially hard for them to prove that loss.”

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