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Gov. Mills signs order preventing evictions amid coronavirus

Mills also announced a $5 million Rent Relief Program that will help tenants who qualify with a one-time $500 payment directly to landlords.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills announced actions Thursday that will protect housing for Mainers during the coronavirus pandemic. The Executive Order, when taken in combination with a March 18 order issued by the Maine Court System, will prevent the immediate eviction of tenants other than those who engage in dangerous or unlawful conduct for the duration of the state of emergency.

The order also strengthens penalties for landlords who may try to evict tenants by unlawful means, and extends the time frame for the eviction process in the event that the courts reopen before the Governor's state of emergency has ended. 

“We are in the midst of one of the greatest health crises of our lifetimes. Both public health as well as our shared sense of humanity decency demand that people not be forced from their homes and or businesses from their storefronts,” Mills said in a statement. “It is my hope that these actions will provide a sense of relief, both financial and emotional, to Maine people struggling to make ends meet and that they will mitigate the spread of the virus by keeping Maine people healthy at home.”

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The Order says: "The Order does not prevent a tenant from being evicted if the tenant poses a substantial risk to another person, immediate and severe risk to property, or a violation of health, sanitation, fire, housing, or safety laws. The Order does not relieve any tenant of their legal obligation to pay rent but provides them with more time to make payments."

In partnership with MaineHousing, Mills also announced a new rental assistance relief program for Mainers who can't pay their rent due to COVID-19. The $5 million COVID-19 Rent Relief Program will allow households that meet certain income and ability to pay requirements to receive a one-time, up to $500 payment in rental assistance to be paid directly to their landlord.

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“We understand that for most people this will not cover their full rent payment for the month,” Daniel Brennan, director of MaineHousing said. “We want to help as many people as possible and to do that, we capped the one-time payment at $500. We also want to be clear – this is not a rent forgiveness program. Renters are still responsible for paying their rent. We encourage tenants to communicate with their landlord and urge everyone to work together to get through this.”

Mills has urged all financial institutions to work proactively with Maine homeowners and small businesses experiencing financial hardship amidst the health crisis to help keep their homes and storefronts. 

The complete Executive Order:

People who live in subsidized housing, or housing financed by MaineHousing do not qualify for the program, as those programs have other tools available for those impacted by COVID-19. More information, application materials, and commonly asked questions may be found at www.mainehousing.org/covidrent.

Executive Order Regarding Unlawful Eviction, Writs of Possession and Initiation of Eviction Proceedings:

In an effort to reduce the opportunity for community spread of COVID-19 through courthouse activities, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued a Revised Emergency Order on March 18, 2020 that, in part, permits filings in eviction or Forcible Entry and Detainer (FED) Action but prohibits until at least May 1st any action, hearings and proceedings thereon, unless a case presents a severe threatening emergency. As a result, only evictions authorized before the March 18th order are permitted to proceed.

The Governor’s Executive Order protects tenants against whom these writs of possession – the final document allowing the eviction – that were authorized before the Court’s March 18th order, but which have not yet been issued by a court or served by a sheriff. The Order states that these writs shall not be issued or served.

Additionally, in response to concerns that some landlords are attempting to unlawfully evict their tenants by, for example, turning off utilities such as electricity, the Governor’s Executive Order strengthens the enforcement actions that can be taken against landlords who attempt to evict tenants from their home or storefront outside of the legal process. Because such evictions during this period of emergency would violate the Order, the legal action that could be taken against them if they attempted to do so to up to 6 months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

Finally, the Governor’s Order protects tenants who are considered “at will”, meaning they do not have a legal agreement with their landlord, and because of COVID-19 cannot make their rent payment, by requiring a landlord to provide at least 60 days’ notice, rather than 30, 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

The Order does not prevent a tenant from being evicted if the tenant poses a substantial risk to another person, immediate and severe risk to property, or a violation of health, sanitation, fire, housing, or safety laws. The Order does not relieve any tenant of their legal obligation to pay rent but provides them with more time to make payments.

The COVID-19 Rent Relief Program:

Established at the urging of Governor Mills, MaineHousing has created a $5 million COVID-19 Rent Relief Program. Each household that meets certain ability to pay requirements may receive a one-time payment of up to $500 in rental assistance paid directly to the landlord. The landlord then agrees not to evict the tenant for nonpayment for the month the payment was issued. Maine’s Community Action Agencies will administer the program locally and may have additional resources available for other needs. The funding, which comes from the Housing Opportunity for Maine (HOME) Fund, will go entirely to Mainers served. No organization will receive administrative fees for program administration.

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At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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