Maryland lawmakers to focus on eviction challenges in upcoming General Assembly

Maryland legislators are looking to revamp how the rising number of eviction cases will be handled in its upcoming General Assembly session.

Housing advocates, who outlined a series of proposed bills for the legislative session, said that nearly 30% of Maryland families earning less than $50,000 couldn’t pay their rents last month. And there were 115,000 eviction cases filed in Maryland courts between July and November.

The five proposals were discussed in a Zoom briefing Monday morning and included an overhaul of the eviction process.

One proposal would bar all eviction filings other than those that cite an “imminent threat” until April 2022.

Maryland State Del. Melissa Wells, whose district includes Baltimore City, said a coordinated effort, not a “band-aid” approach, was needed given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Wells said, “We are not asking landlords to give up their rights. We are asking for a fair fight.”

Wells’ plan, sponsored by Attorney General Brian Frosh, is designed to reduce “high-volume” eviction dockets, in part by boosting the fees that landlords pay when they go to court to file for eviction.

“It costs the landlord $15 to file one of these actions,” Frosh said. “It’s the third-lowest nationwide.”

In some states, the filing fee is $300 or more, Frosh said. He said the average is about $122.

Frosh said the low fee in Maryland encourages landlords to go straight to the courts for relief when a renter falls behind in paying rent.

“The filing rate is more than 100% in some areas. And by that I mean there are more eviction actions filed than there are apartment units,” said Frosh.

The legislative reform would call for increasing the filing fee to $120, something Frosh said would encourage landlords to work toward mediation before moving to eviction.

Wells’ measure, which is also sponsored by Maryland State Sen. Charles Sydnor, would also give judges greater discretion to stay eviction proceedings.

A related measure from Del. Wanika Fisher and Sen. Shelly Hettleman would include “right to counsel” to represent defendants.

Under the emergency renter protections being supported by Del. Jheanelle Wilkins, financial relief for landlords would also be available.

Her plan calls for creating mandated matching funds in state or county budgets to help landlords — especially smaller landlords — provide rent forgiveness “because we understand and know that their challenges are a little different,” said Wilkins.

The package also contains a measure to help struggling homeowners.

The “Emergency Homeowner Protection” proposal from Maryland Del. Vaughn Stewart would extend “and codify” a foreclosure moratorium for the extent of the state of emergency ordered when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Vaughn said the measure’s intended to help homeowners and small landlords, for example a single family homeowner who has rented out space to help pay the bills. The measure would also ban late fees through the course of the state of emergency.

Maryland’s General Assembly session is scheduled to begin Jan. 13.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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