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Maine Renters Facing Eviction Threats Amid COVID-19

More than 21,000 people in Maine filed unemployment claims last week, a more than 3,000% increase over the prior week. More than one third of these claims came from the hospitality sector. (Michael M Stokes/Creative Commons)
More than 21,000 people in Maine filed unemployment claims last week, a more than 3,000% increase over the prior week. More than one third of these claims came from the hospitality sector. (Michael M Stokes/Creative Commons)
April 2, 2020

AUGUSTA, Maine - Gov. Janet Mills said at a press conference this week she would not declare an eviction moratorium for the state of Maine, preferring to handle the issue informally.

But many Mainers are facing eviction threats.

The Maine People's Alliance recently launched Mainers Together, a website where hundreds of Mainers have requested assistance or volunteered to help during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mike Tipping, the alliance's communications director, says dozens of renters have reached out to his organization.

"Right now a lot of people are getting notices saying they're going to be evicted," he relates. "There are landlords right now that are trying to lock people out, perform illegal evictions, trying to get their tenants to self-evict. That's really scary. I don't know where those people are going to go."

Maine has mostly stopped eviction court proceedings through May 1, except for "compelling" reasons.

In neighboring New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu issued an eviction and foreclosure moratorium while COVID-19 interrupts daily life.

The Maine People's Alliance and a number of other nonprofit groups are circulating a petition calling for Mills not only to issue an eviction and foreclosure moratorium, but also a rent and mortgage freeze.

Tipping explains the rationale.

"In a few months, if this is resolved, these people aren't going to be able to pay their rent," he points out. "You know, we just had tens of thousands of people lose their jobs."

At the end of last week, Maine had the second highest percentage increase of unemployment claims in the country, and more than three times the national average.

Based on this data, it looks like up to one in seven hospitality workers in Maine may have been let go.

Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - ME