PORTLAND, Maine — Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill into law Tuesday that would help Mainers facing eviction. The Maine House and Senate passed the bill last week.
Under LD 1508, landlords would have to attach a plain-language letter explaining the eviction process, as well as options for legal assistance and rent relief on eviction notices.
Those letters already exist: courts were issuing them to tenants facing eviction during the pandemic. This legislation would make them permanent.
The federal moratorium that prevents people from getting evicted during the pandemic expires in about two weeks.
"When they receive this notice that the rent relief program exists, maybe they can prevent the eviction and that's better for the tenant and the landlord," said Greg Payne, director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition.
In response to the bill, the Maine State Housing Authority and Pine Tree Legal Assistance are partnering to make sure every tenant who needs help staying in a stable home has access to the help they need to avoid evictions and navigate the process.
The bill originally included a mechanism for funding Pine Tree Legal's help, but this response allowed them to take that out of the bill. The partnership will use largely federal funds to help more people. PTLA had to say no to about 50 percent of people asking for legal help with evictions because the organization did not have enough workers, Payne said.
"Now they'll have access to counsel, and that's really important," said Payne.
A study from the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition looked at about 2,300 eviction filings statewide.
It found landlords have an attorney about 80 percent of the time. Tenants have an attorney about 20 percent of time.
When tenants have an attorney, they are 85 percent more likely to avoid eviction, Payne said of the study.
Evictions are part of a renter's record, and make them less attractive candidates for future rentals. Many lease applications require people to disclose if they have ever been evicted, and landlords can often find that information during a background check.
"Evictions are a traumatic experience," said Payne. "It becomes especially acute in a market like what we have now. It is incredibly difficult to find any kind of housing right now."
The goal of the MAHC is to avoid unnecessary evictions, such as those who have applied for rent relief, but have not received it yet. Payne said many of those applications are in process, but there is widespread demand for the money.
"Those applications are significantly backlogged," said Payne.
There are some eligibility requirements to qualify for legal help through Pine Tree Legal Assistance.