Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman announced a comprehensive strategy to provide legal assistance, information and referrals for county renters in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the expected increase in the number of households facing eviction.
Pittman highlighted a list of legal resources for county residents that will complement the existing Eviction Prevention Program, which provides rental assistance on behalf of income eligible renters who cannot pay their rent due to a COVID related loss of income.
“As soon as this pandemic came to our county, our staff launched the state’s first eviction prevention program, using casino and general fund revenues. That program, and the wonderful counselors who deliver it, has already protected hundreds of hard-working families from financial ruin,” said Pittman. “As our residents approach the end of eviction moratoria and the reopening of our courts, we must intervene, and we will. We have brought together a team of nonprofit organizations and experienced attorneys to educate and represent the people who are the backbone of our economy and the most vulnerable among us. We call ourselves Operation Eviction Intervention, and we mean business.”
“We want to help renters facing eviction early on in the process – our staff and our partners can now help determine whether there is a legal basis to halt or prevent their eviction, and if they are eligible, we can help them with Eviction Prevention Program assistance to help get current on rent payments,” said Kathleen Koch, Executive Director of Arundel Community Development Services, Inc., which administers the county Eviction Prevention Program and administers the county’s contract with legal partners.
In addition, ACDS has hired a full time attorney to join the Eviction Prevention Program to provide legal guidance for clients and caseworkers and to negotiate payment plans or other arrangements with landlords.
The announcement comes in the wake of the recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) order that temporarily halts evictions in most cases for failure to pay rent cases. Eligible renters must complete a CDC declaration form and present that to their landlord and the courts, if summoned.
Operation Eviction Intervention includes the following components:
Community Legal Services will implement the Tenant Representation Project in Anne Arundel County. Attorneys will provide representation to tenants in their landlord tenant hearings (in person or virtually) and/or will help clients facing eviction pre-hearing or pre-filing. The Grantee will hire a temporary, dedicated Anne Arundel attorney and also utilize their network of pro bono attorneys, who will receive a small stipend for each docket. Anne Arundel County is investing $42,333 in Coronavirus Relief Funds into this effort.
The Fair Housing Action Center of Maryland, a project of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition – will hire additional staff to support their Tenant & Fair Housing Intake Line and tenant education and outreach efforts in Anne Arundel County. FHAC staff will provide information about tenants’ rights, the eviction process as well as referrals to eviction prevention programs and legal assistance services. There are no income limits for tenants, and landlords can also call for information. The County is investing $35,000 in County general funds into this effort.
Maryland Legal Aid and its Anne Arundel County Office will provide legal assistance, including assistance for tenant-landlord cases, for very low income County residents seeking legal assistance. Anne Arundel County is investing $50,000 from the County Executive’s Community Support Grant funds, one of the largest awards made through the CSG Program in anticipation of an increased need for eviction prevention efforts due to COVID-19.
ACDS and our partners will continue to work with and refer clients to existing resources, including the Conflict Resolution Center and the Self Help Centers.
The Anne Arundel Conflict Resolution Center provides community mediation and can serve as a way for landlords and tenants to work out disputes and payment settlements before, or instead of, going to court. This process is free and does not take additional funding to support.
Self Help Centers, which are staffed by a subsidiary of Maryland Legal Aid, serve the District Courts located throughout Maryland including Anne Arundel County. They do not provide legal representation but help clients navigate the legal process and guide them to prepare the right documentation necessary for self-representation in court.
With Coronavirus Relief Funds, ACDS has hired Lisa Sarro, J.D., an experienced housing attorney to work with Eviction Prevention Program caseworkers to accomplish three main objectives: establish an intake process for EPP clients who need help with the legal system, provide information, legal assistance and referrals as needed; negotiate agreements with landlords on behalf of ACDS to maximize the eviction prevention benefits of the Program; and provide training and support for EPP caseworkers to understand the legal process and be able to make appropriate referrals.