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Families experiencing homelessness living in hotels told to leave by June 1st

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Pine Tree Legal Assistance will file court cases Tuesday on behalf of more than a dozen clients experiencing homelessness and living in hotels in York, Cumberland and Sagadahoc Counties.

Last week, the Maine State Housing Authority lowered the per diem hotel rate paid on behalf of clients in the federally funded Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The lower rates prompted hotel owners to say tenants could no longer live there starting June 1st.

Pine Tree Legal Assistance Attorney Sarah Austin says her clients are tenants, a landlord tenant relationship has been established, and they cannot be removed without a legal eviction process.

"When someone is a guest versus when someone is a tenant in a hotel depends on a number of factors," Austin said. "In the cases we are preparing to bring, our clients have been staying at the hotels for months, have been cleaning their own rooms with supplies they bought, and have been washing their own linens."

Austin will file cases in York, Cumberland and Sagadahoc County Superior Courts and ask judges to enforce due process for her clients.

"When somebody has rights as a tenant, they have the right not to be removed from their residence without notice and the judicial process," Austin said.

Maine State Housing Authority is advising hotel owners and its clients to consult with an attorney to understand their legal obligations and rights. The state says the Emergency Rental Assistance program was meant to be a temporary pandemic relief program. It’s funding source is finite, and the changes were made to stretch funding through another winter.

Maine is in the midst of an affordable housing and shelter crisis, which required the state to put clients experiencing homelessness in hotels.