“If eviction and debt collection proceedings are allowed to move forward, many Maryland families will be forced out of their homes, with no place to go and no income to obtain new housing,” Frosh said in a statement.
A spokesperson for Barber and Morrissey confirmed Monday that they had received the letter but declined to comment further.
Adam Skolnik, executive director of the Maryland Multi-Housing Association, called the request “fundamentally unfair” to landlords, who have also suffered during the pandemic.
“We disagree . . . to a forever, ongoing moratorium,” said Skolnick, whose group represents 115 companies that own 215,000 rental units statewide.
He said the association would like to see more rental assistance for tenants, so that landlords can still get paid: “I don’t see anyone clamoring to let people go into Giant and Harris Teeter and get food and not have to pay for it.”
Federal and state eviction moratoriums put in place at the start of the pandemic are starting to expire, along with enhanced unemployment benefits, although Congress and the White House are debating how to extend those payments.
The letter from the Maryland task force is at least the third request made in the state in the past month to extend the court’s moratorium — which exists alongside a separate moratorium ordered by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) that will last as long as the existing coronavirus state of emergency.
Concerned about how remote eviction hearings could impact due process for renters, a group of advocates, including the ACLU, Maryland Legal Aid and the Public Justice Center, sent a joint letter to the courts asking for a moratorium extension. The two chairs of the housing committees of the state legislature made a similar request.
Also on Monday, a legislative work group on housing issued a report that offers numerous recommendations to stave off evictions. They range from eliminating late fees to ensuring that tenants have legal representation.
“This is a full-on crisis,” said Robert E. McGarrah Jr., an attorney who works pro bono for Maryland Legal Aid in Montgomery County. “People are in jeopardy of not only losing their homes but having their credit ruined forever.”
A report from the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit and nonpartisan think tank, estimates that about 20 million renters across the country and about 330,000 in Maryland are at risk of eviction. African American and Hispanic residents are expected to be hit hardest.
“Extension of the moratoria is critical simply because the conditions underlying Marylanders’ inability to pay rent and consumer debt remain largely unchanged,” the letter reads. “Many Marylanders were struggling to pay housing and other expenses before the COVID-19 crisis, and the pandemic has exacerbated these difficulties exponentially.”
Under the federal moratorium, evictions proceedings were halted between March 27 and July 25 from “covered properties,” which included public housing, federally subsidized housing and residential property subject to a federally backed mortgage. Landlords were barred from charging late fees and penalties. Because the moratorium requires a 30-day notice of evictions, tenants wouldn’t start being evicted until Aug. 25.
The Maryland moratoriums were not limited to federally backed properties, a spokeswoman for Frosh said. But the governor’s eviction moratorium applies only to tenants directly impacted by the coronavirus.
The court moratorium lifted July 25 for launching certain kinds of evictions, but others cannot be launched until Aug. 31. No one who can prove that they are directly impacted by the coronavirus can be forced to leave until the governor’s moratorium is lifted.