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With Moratorium Set to Expire, Advocates Say New Bill Could Reduce Evictions In Maine

Virus Outbreak Eviction Moratorium
Heather Hollingsworth
Denise Wall, stands in her home Friday, June 18, 2021, in Shawnee, Kan. A judge in Kansas' most populous county is beginning to evict tenants who are behind on rent in advance of a federal moratorium expiring at the end of the month in an early sign of what is to come as experts predict a tide of people being forced from their homes nationwide. "We thought 2021 was going to be better and it is turning out to be just as bad," said Denise Wall, who applied for rental aid in March but is still trying to find out whether she qualifies.

Advocates say a new bill signed by Gov. Mills could help some tenants avoid eviction as a national moratorium is set to expire at the end of the month.

Under the new legislation, landlords who serve an eviction notice will also be required to provide a list of resources about rental assistance, legal aid, and court procedures. Greg Payne, with the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, says in a tight housing market, those resources could make it possible for renters to stay in their home.

"We think one of the dangers is, if you have tenants who simply have no idea that there's a rent relief program, this notice provision -- thanks to LD 1508 -- will make sure they do know that there is a rent relief program," Payne says.

That program is being funded by the federal government, which allocated $200 million for rent relief in Maine earlier this year.

Democratic State Sen. Anne Carney of Cape Elizabeth, who authored the bill, says providing legal aid is particularly important for renters, as a recent report from the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition found that access to legal counsel is one of the most effective ways to prevent evictions.

"Having a lawyer available to tenants really balances out some of the lack of resources that landlords versus tenants often bring to the courtroom," Carney says.

MaineHousing and Pine Tree Legal Assistance are also working to increase access to legal aid for tenants at risk of eviction.

Payne says the State of Maine Judicial Branch adopted a similar notice requirement during the pandemic, but the new law should allow the practice to continue going forward.