House Advances Proposal to Give Judges More Discretion to Temporarily Stay Evictions

    The Maryland House of Delegates passed a proposal to give judges more leeway to temporarily halt evictions Tuesday – without a provision that would’ve mandated eviction diversion programs in counties with high eviction numbers.

    If enacted, House Bill 52, introduced by Del. Melissa Wells (D-Baltimore City), would allow judges broader discretion over how long to grant a temporary stay of an eviction compared to the current cap of 15 days. Judges can grant those temporary emergency stays if an eviction “would endanger the health or life of the tenant.”

    The proposal originally included mandatory eviction programs based on counties’ eviction numbers in the 2019 fiscal year, but that provision was cut by the House Judiciary committee after opposition from judicial officials, Committee Chairman Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) said last week.

    The proposal was sent to the Senate by a 91-40 vote Tuesday. The House is also set to take up another heavily cut-back tenant relief proposal Wednesday that would codify and extend current emergency protections for renters.

    As introduced by Del. Jheanelle K. Wilkins (D-Montgomery), House Bill 1312 would have created a rent relief fund, put additional restrictions on evictions and protected tenants from being evicted under “tenant-holding-over” actions, which can occur when a tenant remains on a property after a lease ends.

    But as advanced by the House Judiciary Committee last week, the proposal would codify Gov Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s (R) current emergency protections for tenants for the current pandemic and future health emergencies. Those orders allow tenants an affirmative defense to failure-to-pay rent filings, and requires them to head to court to avert eviction.

    Advocates, who have long said that current protections don’t go far enough to protect tenants, have criticized the amendments to the bill.

    “This bill is simply allowing for a Governor Hogan-style affirmative defense, which requires tenants to come to court during an emergency to prove that they’ve had a substantial income loss, and that the income loss is related to the emergency,” Public Justice Center Attorney Zafar Shah told Maryland Matters. “We fail to see how this is substantively different from what we’ve seen happen since last March.”

    Landlord groups hope the Senate will retain the House’s cuts to the proposal: D. Robert Enten, a lobbyist for the Maryland Multi Housing Association, urged members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee last week to focus on getting rent relief funding to tenants and landlords rather than putting additional restrictions on landlords.

    The House is also set to take up House Bill 104, introduced by Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery County), which would require landlords to notify tenants about lease non-renewals earlier than the one-month notice currently required by most counties. Clippinger previously said he said that legislation would address tenant-holding-over concerns.

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    Bennett Leckrone
    Leckrone is a December 2019 graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. He has interned at The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Columbus Dispatch, PennLive.com, The Dayton Daily News and The Troy Daily News. Leckrone is a Report for America corps member.