ANNAPOLIS – Two new housing bills would prevent unnecessary evictions and help reduce homelessness in the state, supporters said Thursday, while landlords argued the measures would only complicate the process and increase rents for other tenants.
The bills, sponsored by Sen. Ralph Hughes, D-Baltimore, would allow tenants facing eviction to avoid or postpone the event if they could show good cause to a judge.
One would allow judges to grant a stay of eviction if the tenant shows extenuating circumstances, such as a delayed unemployment check or an ex-spouse who neglects child support.
The other would increase the time a tenant has to appeal an eviction from two to five days.
Stephen Chaikin, a Baltimore lawyer representing a bar association committee on homelessness, told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee that the extra time would “guarantee due process of law” and give tenants more opportunity to seek legal advice.
Chaikin said the measure would prevent the evictions of people who have legitimate reason to appeal.
“Evictions often lead to homelessness…. The state’s costs associated with these problems are enormous,” Chaikin stated in written testimony.
Landlords opposing the bills said they would only lengthen an already onerous process to get rid of tenants who simply can’t pay the rent, and who deprive landlords of income.
“Proponents of these bills look to landlords as if they must cure all the social ills in society,” said Lesa Noblitt Hoover of the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington.
Hoover said that many do not realize that landlords have their own bills and their own deadlines to meet, and when they don’t they must face exorbitant late charges.
In written testimony, Hoover explained that many owners of moderate- and lower-income housing see minimal profits on their properties. When tenants fail to pay rent, the cost increases for landlords, which in turn increases the rent for other tenants.
Alfred Singer of the Maryland Property Owners’ Association said that all the anti-eviction measures would do is increase the time it takes for a landlord to regain control of the property.
“Sometimes situations happen where [tenants] lose a job, and it’s time to move on,” Singer said.
One of the bills would give judges limited discretion to grant a stay of eviction if they felt it was warranted by the tenant’s circumstances. Under current law, judges can grant a stay only with a physician’s certificate stating that vacating the property will endanger the tenant’s life or health. In written testimony supporting the bill, Judge Robert F. Sweeney of the District Court of Maryland said he felt the new limited power would be “carefully exercised” by judges and would provide some relief to evicted tenants who need the extra time to move out. -30-