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COVID-19 Rent Relief Program expanded to help prevent evictions

Governor Janet Mills announced that MaineHousing will double its rental assistance from $500 to $1,000 through the COVID-19 Rental Relief Program beginning Aug. 3

AUGUSTA, Maine — At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Janet Mills issued an executive order that said landlords could not evict tenants for non-payment of rent until the courts reopen. On Thursday, just days before courts are set to reopen on August 3, Mills signed an executive order expanding the timeframe protections for renters in the evictions process.

The new order says "no landlord or agent of a landlord or property owner may attempt during this state of emergency to evict a tenant by means not authorized by law." 

The Governor’s order allows evictions scheduled for hearing prior to, and unrelated to, the pandemic to move forward. However, it continues to protect tenants who are considered “at will”, meaning they do not have a legal agreement with their landlord, and cannot make their rent payment, by requiring a landlord to provide at least 45 days’ notice, rather than 30 under law, to a tenant to leave. If the landlord is attempting to evict those at-will tenants, the order also extends an eviction notice timeframe from 7 to 30 days. 

Read the order here:

The Governor also maintained strengthened penalties for landlords who may try to evict tenants by unlawful means, such as, for example, turning off utilities.

“We know that eviction concerns across Maine are significant. We want people to remain safe and secure in their homes – and this extended program will help,” Daniel Brennan, Director of MaineHousing, said in a statement. “As we work on a number of solutions needed to address housing challenges that are exacerbated by the pandemic, we hope that landlords and tenants are continuing to work together to keep Mainers housed.”

RELATED: Mills announces $1 million effort to address racial disparities in COVID-19

MaineHousing will also double its rental assistance from $500 to $1,000 through the COVID-19 Rental Relief Program beginning Monday, August 3. The expanded assistance is supported by an initial $5 million in Coronavirus Relief Funds. 

“Many Maine people are still experiencing significant financial hardship as a result of COVID-19, and the last thing they need to worry about is losing their home,” Mills said. “While the future of the $600 boost in Federal unemployment benefits remains in question, we believe the combination of an expanded rental relief program and continued protections through the updated Executive Order can help renters while also not leaving landlords behind. My Administration will continue to work closely with MaineHousing and local agencies across the state to help keep Mainers housed.”

Under the program, each household that meets a certain ability to pay requirements may receive a payment of up to $1,000 in rental assistance paid directly to the landlord for up to three months. The assistance may also be used to pay for overdue rent. In accepting the payment, the landlord agrees not to evict the tenant for nonpayment for the month the payment was issued.

The announcement comes days after 'sleep out' protestors in Portland presented their immediate and long-term demands to City officials for people impacted by the housing and coronavirus crisis. Extending the eviction freeze, which ends on August 3, is on the list of demands.