Montgomery Co. leaders urge renters to respond to eviction orders in court

Thousands of Montgomery County residents face possible eviction, and county officials as well as housing advocates are urging renters to answer a legal summons if they face an eviction order.

The advice comes as housing advocates worry that time may be running out, since the federally funded rental relief program is slated to end June 30, and a renewal of Maryland’s state of emergency generated questions as to whether state protections from eviction would remain in place.

When a renter learns that he or she may be targeted for eviction, advocates say they should take immediate action.

“They must go to court; they must make sure that their case is heard,” said Matt Losak, with the Montgomery County Renters Alliance. “Failure to appear in court means an automatic judgement against the tenant — even if they have a good case.”

Renters are often reluctant to answer a court summons, and Losak said that’s understandable: “I think a lot of people don’t understand the court process.”

It can be intimidating, and renters find it confusing. “Many of them feel that the situation is hopeless,” he said.

Losak added that many people treat a court summons like a bill, refusing to open it in the hopes it will somehow go away.

“In this case it won’t — what will go away is a person’s housing.”

The Montgomery County Renters Alliance said anywhere from 14,000 to 30,000 people are behind in their rent. Losak said those numbers come from court filings over the last three months.

“Approximately 18,000 filings were heard,” said Losak.

Currently, the county’s Department of Health and Human Services is working to process 6,300 applications for assistance from renters.

“There are still a whole lot of tenants out there who are in arrears and who need to know that they should apply” for help, said County Council President Tom Hucker.

Dr. Rodney Crowell, the director of the HHS, said the number of eviction filings “far and away exceeds the number of people who actually end up going through a proceeding.”

He added, “Our goal is to try to make sure that we catch folks who are facing eviction — but also prevent folks from ever getting to that point.”

Michael Ricci, the communications director for Gov. Larry Hogan, said Hogan’s renewal on Saturday of the state of emergency in Maryland covered eviction protections. And while the declaration on the governor’s website didn’t specify the term of the renewal, Ricci said it would last 30 days.

Hogan is scheduled to provide a COVID-19 update on Tuesday afternoon.

See more resources for renters on the Montgomery County website.

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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