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Caution Urged in Applying for Federal Eviction Moratorium

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One estimate suggests almost 300,000 Maryland families can't pay rent as a result of COVID-19-related income loss. (Adobe Stock)
One estimate suggests almost 300,000 Maryland families can't pay rent as a result of COVID-19-related income loss. (Adobe Stock)
September 4, 2020

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Some Maryland families hit hard by the novel coronavirus are breathing a sigh of relief since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a new moratorium on evictions until year's end.

But the new order has important terms renters need to be aware of. Attorney Matt Hill at the Public Justice Center in Baltimore said to qualify, renters need to make less than $99,000 a year, and meet several other requirements.

They must prove they've lost income due to the pandemic, that they've applied for government assistance to pay rent, and that they could become homeless if kicked out.

He noted that savvy landlords could dispute small details.

"It's going to help millions of tenants, and it's incredibly important," said Hill. "But it does require tenants to be vigilant, and to take action. Because if the landlord is trying to use some sort of loophole or make some sort of argument, they are going to need to respond."

Almost 300,000 households unable to pay rent are at risk of eviction in Maryland, according to one estimate.

For assistance in qualifying, contact the Fair Housing Action Center of Maryland.

While Hill said he thinks the moratorium is a critical first step to protect families, he's also urging lawmakers to take more permanent steps to relieve economic hardships created by the pandemic.

As Hill put it, "If this order is not paired with rent relief -- rental assistance, canceling the rent, something that addresses the long term structural problem of the lack of income related to COVID-19 -- then we are going to be just kicking the can down the road."

People who violate the terms of the eviction moratorium face harsh penalties, including up to a $100,000 fine and a year in jail. And if a tenant lies about any of the five requirements, they could be charged with perjury, which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - MD