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Housing & Tenant Protections for Survivors during COVID-19

Housing and Tenant Protections for Survivors during the COVID-19 Crisis

Special Announcement for SAFE Center Clients

July 13, 2020

This information is intended to alert you to potential benefits and provide general information and does not constitute legal advice. 

During the COVID-19 public health emergency, developments continue to change rapidly at the federal, state and local levels. Information contained in this summary is thus subject to change. Please check the relevant websites and sources for the most up to date information as we are not able to provide regular updates.


STATE OF MARYLAND INFORMATION

Eviction Protections

Maryland residential evictions are currently stayed (cannot move forward, except for emergency cases).[1] It appears Maryland courts will begin processing failure to pay rent eviction cases after July 25th, starting with “warrants of restitution” presumably to enforce evictions for cases heard/decided before the stay.  The District Court plans to start hearing failure to pay rent cases on August 31st.[2]

As long as the Maryland State of Emergency and an Executive Order signed by Governor Hogan remain in effect, courts still won’t be able to evict tenants for failure to pay rent or breach of lease if the tenant can show, through documentation or other objectively verifiable means, substantial loss of income due to COVID-19 or the State of Emergency (including but not limited to job loss, reduction of hours, or the need to miss work to care for a school-aged child at home). (See section at bottom on Rent, Documentation and Repayment). While the Governor’s Order is described as protecting any tenant who can make this showing, there is concern that the Order won’t protect those who tenancies are ending and those with month to month tenancies who receive notice to terminate.[3]

Eviction Actions

Unless the CARES Act applies (see footnote 1), Montgomery County landlords can still file eviction actions. Prince George’s County now prohibits the filing of new complaints for failure to pay rent for the duration of the emergency (or until August 31, 2020). The law also suspends for the same period all eviction actions for non-payment of rent filed during the COVID-19 emergency (prior to enactment of this law).

Anyone who is threatened with eviction or who receives any type of notice, complaint, summons or other action for eviction or repossession, or a warrant of restitution (whether for failure to pay rent,  breach of lease, tenant holdover, wrongful detainer, or any action for eviction) is encouraged to seek legal assistance right away. SAFE Center clients should contact their SAFE Center case worker for referral to a legal services provider. Anyone who is harassed or threatened with eviction during the public health emergency can also call the Maryland Office of Attorney General Consumer Protection Division hotline at 410-528-8662.

 If a landlord locks out a tenant or shuts off essential utilities without a court order, the tenant should call the county police non-emergency number:

  • Montgomery County: 301-279-8000
  • Prince George’s County: 301-352-1200

Eviction Resources

These legal service providers might be able to help with eviction cases, subject to eligibility/intake requirements:

Maryland Courts also have a Self Help Center with information on Housing Cases and a video for tenants about failure to pay rent cases. See also Maryland People’s Law Library Failure to Pay Rent and Evictions for Failure to Pay Rent During COVID- 19 Court Closure pages. Tenants who are not represented by lawyers can contact the District Courts Self Help Center by calling 410-260-1392 or click on the chat function between 8:30a.m. and 8p.m. for free legal advice. The Court Self Help Center does not represent individuals in court but can help people who are representing themselves.

Montgomery County tenants can also call or email the county Office of Landlord Tenant Affairs at 240-777-0311 or email: olta.intake@montgomerycountymd.gov for help resolving disputes outside of court with their landlords.

The Housing Initiative Partnership, a HUD-approved housing counseling agency, can also provide general guidance to Montgomery and Prince George’s County residents facing eviction (MoCo phone: 301-916-5946; P.G. County phone: 301-699-3835).

Maryland Court COVID-19 updates can be found here. This website might soon have more information on a centralized resource for COVID-19 relief for tenants.

Additional information and updates might also be available through these websites:

MONTGOMERY COUNTY INFORMATION

Rent Assistance

The Montgomery County COVID-19 Rent Relief Program provides assistance primarily for those earning less than 40% of the area median income (AMI) ($34,000 for family of one) who are behind on rent due to COVID-19. Limited assistance might be available for those earning less than 60% AMI ($51,000 for family of one). Click here for additional eligibility information (social security numbers are not required). There is currently a waitlist for this program. Eligible tenants are encouraged to call 311 (or 240-777-0311 if calling from outside the county) or submit a service request to be added to the waitlist. (The COVID-19 Rent Relief Program is different from the HOC administered COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program, which is now closed).

Those facing immediate risk of homelessness, including those with informal rental arrangements, might be able to get financial assistance (including move-in and utility assistance) through the Montgomery County Office of Housing Stabilization Services by calling 311.

For updates on Montgomery County rent assistance check the COVID-19 Information Portal Get Help (click on Housing).

Tenants receiving a housing subsidy through the HOC might qualify for emergency rent assistance directly through HOC (call 240-627-9400 or click here for information).

Rent Increases, Late Fees and Maryland Renters Tax Credit

Montgomery County landlords can’t raise rent by more than 2.6% for licensed residential units during the public health emergency and for 180 days thereafter. The limit does not apply to room renters in owner occupied houses or to increases in effect before April 25th. Montgomery County landlords can charge permissible late fees unless the CARES Act applies.

Maryland renters may qualify for a tax credit (a check of up to $1,000). To apply, visit the Renters Tax Credit application or call the Housing Initiative Partnership (301-916-5946) for help. Applications must be submitted by September 1, 2020.  Qualified MoCo renters will receive a 50% matching Montgomery County tax credit.

Additional Montgomery County Info/Resources

Tenants can call or email the county Office of Landlord Tenant Affairs at 240-777-0311 or email: olta.intake@montgomerycountymd.gov for additional information about tenant protections and help resolving disputes with their landlords. The Housing Initiative Partnership can also assist Montgomery County renters (call 301-916-5946; see their website for more information).

Additional information and updates might also be available through these websites:

PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY INFORMATION

Rent Assistance

The Prince George’s County COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program provides assistance for those earning 80% or less of the area median income ($54,350 for  household of one) who are behind on rent because of COVID-19. Click here for other eligibility requirements and documents. Tenants who rent a room might be eligible (particularly if prior rent payments and amount of past due rent are documented). Due to the large number of applications, the program is temporarily closed. Qualified applicants are encouraged to check back daily.

Prince George’s County tenants living with HIV/AIDS might qualify for rent assistance through the Metropolitan Housing Access Program (call HCS Homelessness Prevention Program (202-667-7339) for additional information).

Rent Increases, Late Fees and Maryland Renters Tax Credit

Prince George’s County landlords can’t raise rent during the emergency or give notice of a rent increase for 90 days after the emergency ends at least in some situations. The law also appears to prohibit late fees and penalties for rent due during the emergency (and, in some instances, for 90 days thereafter). Tenants should seek additional guidance as to whether they need to demonstrate substantial loss of income due to the public health emergency for these protections to apply. If the CARES Act applies, late fees and penalties cannot be charged for rent due during the moratorium.

Maryland renters may qualify for a tax credit (a check of up to $1,000). To apply, visit the Renters Tax Credit application or call the Housing Initiative Partnership (301-699-3835) for help. Applications must be submitted by September 1, 2020.

Additional Prince George’s County Info/Resources

The Housing Initiative Partnership can assist P.G. County renters (call 301-699-3835; see their website for more information).

Additional information and updates might also be available through these websites:

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

D.C. Eviction Protections 

Residential tenants cannot be evicted tenants while the D.C. public health emergency is in effect. The public health emergency is currently in effect through July 24. The D.C. Courts have also stayed evictions. (See footnote 1).

“Anyone who pays rent regularly to live somewhere is considered a residential tenant and is protected. Tenants do not need a written lease with their name on it to be protected from eviction during the public health emergency. . . [T]enants who have a verbal agreement to live in a landlord’s spare room . . . cannot be evicted during the public health emergency.” D.C. Office of Attorney General (OAG) Tenant Protections Flyer  (OAG flyer in Spanish).

Eviction Actions

D.C. law now prohibits the filing of eviction actions during the public health emergency and for 60 days thereafter. Assuming the D.C. public health emergency continues in effect through July 24, new eviction actions cannot be filed before September 22, 2020. The court apparently is beginning to hear some types of cases which can lead to eviction and which were filed before this law was passed – starting with cases other than failure to pay rent (such as criminal matters and other lease violations). See D.C. Legal Aid Tenant Rights During the COVID-19 Emergency for more information.[4]

Anyone who is threatened with or has received a notice to vacate or quit (or any type of notice seeking eviction), summons, complaint for failure to pay rent or any other type of action for eviction (or a notice of hearing for such action), or a Writ of Restitution is encouraged to seek legal assistance right away. SAFE Center clients should contact their SAFE Center case worker for referral to a legal services provider. Anyone who is harassed or threatened with eviction during this period can also call the D.C. Office of Attorney General at (202) 442-9828.

If a landlord locks out a tenant or shuts off essential utilities without a court order, tenant should call the D.C. police non-emergency number: 202-727-9099.

Eviction Resources

D.C. residents can call the Landlord Tenant Legal Assistance Network at 202-780-2575 to be connected to a legal services provider (including those listed below), based on eligibility and type of case. D.C. tenants can also call providers directly to find out if they qualify for assistance:

DC Office of Tenant Advocate (OTA) Legal Services can also assist tenants in certain legal matters and refer tenants to other legal service providers (call 202-719-6560 or go to Contact information).

The D.C. Superior Court Landlord & Tenant Branch website has an informational video and a live chat feature located on far right side of the page. Tenants can use the live chat feature to ask the clerk to be directed to a lawyer who might be able to assist.

For general guidance, tenants can also call the Housing Counseling Services (HCS), a HUD-approved counseling agency. For HCA intake, call 202-667-7006 or email intake@housingetc.org (for urgent situations, call the HCS Homelessness Prevention Program at 202-667-7339). Additional D.C based housing counseling organizations are listed here.

D.C. Courts COVID-19 updates can be found by going to DC Courts Coronavirus Advisories and DC Court Landlord & Tenant pages.

Rent Assistance

Rent assistance appears to be available through the programs listed below. Tenants can call HCS to ask if they qualify for these or other programs (main intake: 202-667-7006 (or email to intake@housingetc.org)). If urgent help is needed, call the HCS Homelessness Prevention Program at 202-667-7339. D.C. tenants can also apply directly for these programs (except possibly for the program in the last bullet).

  • C. Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) Tenant-Based Rental Assistance (TBRA) Program is for low-income renters, in affordable housing communities, who have lost income during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Eligible renters cannot earn more than 60% of the Median Family Income for the regionand must live in a rental property with 50 or fewer units. Click here for additional renter and building eligibility requirements. D.C. residents can apply for TBRA funds by calling:
    • Housing Counseling Services – (202) 667-7713 (HCS’s TBRA line)
    • Latino Economic Development Center – (202) 588-5102
  • C. Department of Human Services Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) provides qualified households facing eviction with funds for back rent and in some cases, security deposit and first month’s rent. D.C. residents must earn less than 125% of the monthly federal poverty level based on household size. Click hereto learn more. Tenants can apply
    • by phonefor intake appointment. Click here and go to second page for intake organizations, phone numbers and hours OR
    • onlinefor an intake appointment by clicking here.
  • C. Ward 8 residents only can also apply for rent assistance through 202 Assist. It appears applicants need to show negative financial impact due to COVID-19. Click hereto see application and documents needed (applicants can explain if they are unable to provide all documents). Those who rent a room or have an oral lease may be able to provide documentation of prior rent payments and/or written demand for past due rent in place of lease. Applicants can apply through HCS or call Lydia’s House at 202-373-1050.
  • C. residents living with HIV/AIDS, might also qualify for rent assistance through the Metropolitan Housing Access Program (call HCS Homelessness Prevention Program at 202-667-7339 for more information).

Rent Increases, Late Fees and Amenity Fees

D.C. law (D.C. Coronavirus Support Emergency Amendment Act of 2020) also, among other things:

  • prohibits residential landlords from charging late fees during the public health emergency and from raising rent during the public health emergency and for 30 days thereafter.
  • requires landlords to reimburse tenants on pro-rated basis for amenity fees charged in addition to rent for amenities not provided during the emergency

Additional D.C. Info/Resources

Additional information and updates might also be available through these websites:

RENT, DOCUMENTATION, AND REPAYMENT

Rent

Tenants are still responsible for paying rent and should pay their rent if they are able to do so. Tenants who cannot afford to pay all or a portion of their rent are encouraged to write or talk to their landlord to let them know they are unable to pay because of COVID-19 and/or the public health emergency, assuming that is the case.

To be eligible for a rent payment plan in D.C., D.C. tenants must notify their landlord of their inability to pay rent because of the public health emergency (and apparently be able to demonstrate the same).

The Augrented Blog has a letter-writing tool (powered by DocAssemble) which might help tenants write this type of letter (this is a general tool, not geared specifically to D.C. or Maryland tenants).

  • MoCo and PG county residents might be able to get help with writing such letters from the Housing Initiative Partnership (or for MoCo residents, through the Office of Landlord Tenant Affairs (contact information is above)
  • C. residents might be able to get help through Housing Counseling Services or the Office of the Tenant Advocate Legal Services division (contact information is above)

Documentation  

In the event Maryland tenants face an eviction action for failure to pay rent and need to show substantial loss of income due to the public health emergency, or D.C. tenants need make a similar showing to qualify for a rent repayment program, tenants are encouraged to document and keep any and all documents that might help make such a showing, including but not limited to:

  • pay stubs
  • personal bank statements
  • communications with their employers (such as letters, emails, texts, voice mails that could be transcribed, and written notes documenting oral conversations)
  • for those who own their own business or are self-employed, any and all account statements and other records showing loss of income or reduced revenue
  • medical records showing they or a family member who resides with them has or had COVID-19 and/or a medical condition putting them at greater risk for contracting COVID-19
  • documents showing they need or needed to stay at home or work fewer hours to care for a dependent who is, or has been home-bound during this time

Tenants who are unable to pay all or a portion of rent are also encouraged to keep documentation showing:

  • they have applied for all benefits and assistance to which they might be entitled (e.g., unemployment and emergency assistance (including rent assistance) if available)
  • all communications with their landlord, including about inability to pay rent due to the public health emergency as well as landlord demands for past due rent (tenants are encouraged to keep a written record of conversations with their landlord, including date, time and what was said)
  • the amount of rent paid, including prior payments – tenants are encouraged to pay rent by check or online, to keep a record of payments and get receipts, particularly for any rent paid in cash or by money order

Rent Repayment AGreements/Payment Plans 

Under DC. law, landlords are required to offer rent payment plans to tenants who provide notice of their inability pay all or a portion of their rent because of the public health emergency (it appears tenants also need to demonstrate the same). Additional protections apply, including that landlords cannot charge late fees or penalties or make negative credit reports for rent subject to a payment plan (presumably referring to rent that would be delinquent absent the plan).

D.C. landlords might also be barred from filing collection lawsuits and eviction actions for nonpayment unless they have entered into a payment plan AND tenant has defaulted on the plan (consult a legal services provider for more information).

Maryland, MoCo and P.G counties may encourage but do not appear to require landlords to enter into repayment agreements or payment plans.

Tenants – whether in D.C. or Maryland, are encouraged to talk to a lawyer before entering into any repayment agreement or new payment plan. See Eviction sections above for legal service providers in Maryland and D.C. Tenants should consider their ability to make payments based on their current income and/or other resources before signing. If needed, the possibility for rent reduction, rent forgiveness and/or a longer period for repayment should also be considered. If not possible to reach a lawyer, tenants might be able to get help from one of the following offices (contact information above):

  • For MoCo tenants: contact the Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs or the Housing Initiative Partnership
  • For P.G. County tenants: contact the Housing Initiative Partnership
  • For D.C. tenants: contact the Office of the Tenant Advocate Legal Services Division or Housing Counseling Services

Per D.C. Legal Aid FAQs “[i]f you talk to your landlord, it is ok to say that you are not ready to sign an agreement and that you will need more time. You can also let your landlord know if you are seeking financial assistance, or if you know when you will likely receive income again. You should not sign an agreement until you are ready to make payments on the balance.”

SAFE Center clients who feel they are being pressured to sign an agreement about which they have any concerns can also call their case worker directly.

 


 

[1] Tenants who live in a federally financed property might also be protected under a federal law known as the CARES Act moratorium. If the CARES Act applies, tenants cannot be served with an eviction notice until July 24, 2020, and such notice/letter must give the tenant 30 days to leave the property. For all Maryland Failure to Pay Rent eviction cases landlords must file a declaration of CARES Act compliance.

[2] Other types of cases that can lead to eviction, including other breach of lease, tenant holdover and wrongful detainer cases can apparently can be heard starting July 20th.

[3] Montgomery County resources do interpret the Governor’s Order as protecting room renters in owner-occupied houses: “such tenants may not be evicted at this time as ordered by the Governor of Maryland. Current eviction protections apply to all tenants in Maryland.” DHCA Renter Issues Related to COVID-19 Crisis. See also Office of Attorney General COVID -19 Coronavirus FAQ #2 .

[4] Per D.C. Legal Aid information, even if the D.C. Landlord & Tenant Court issues a judgment against a tenant, “[e]victions are on hold . . . at least through July 24, 2020. When evictions restart, . . . [tenants would] receive a new 21-day notice of [their] eviction date.”

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