Someone who rents out a house … for a fixed period of time cannot rescind the lease or evict the tenant during this time. Even if the landlord’s house falls down and they have nowhere to live, and even if they are poor and need to sell the property, they cannot evict the tenant and … the landlord must leave the property in the hands of the renter until the lease expires.
— The Tur, Choshen Mishpat 312: 1-2
Since the beginning of Jewish history, when the Torah reports that Adam and Eve were expelled from their home in the Garden of Eden, the human need for housing has been central to Jewish thought. Our sacred texts recognize that having safe, stable housing is key to a healthy society, and we know that it is key to reducing racial inequities. Our texts are full of conversation, laws, and traditions about the obligations of landlords and tenants, about how homes should be built safely, and about making sure that people can remain in their homes. These obligations have taken on even more urgency in the past two years: all people should be able to stay in their homes, especially during a pandemic.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many are confronting increased economic hardship, the shortcomings of eviction prevention policy, and the extreme threat to health resulting from homelessness. Two critical interventions can help keep thousands of Marylanders housed right now: emergency financial assistance and access to a lawyer.
- Renters who are living at or below the poverty line and/or who have experienced pandemic-related loss of income. Those who find themselves in Rent Court are overwhelmingly Black women, households with minor children, and who receive no housing subsidy.
- Senate Judicial Proceedings (JPR), Chair: Will Smith (Montgomery County)
- House Judiciary (JUD), Chair: Luke Clippinger (Baltimore City)
- House Environment and Transportation (ENT), Chair: Kumar Barve (Montgomery County)
- Senate Budget and Taxation, Chair: Guy Guzzone (Howard County)
- House Appropriations, Chair: Maggie McIntosh (Baltimore City)
- Fund Access to Counsel (HB724/SB662)
- Currently, 1% of tenants who find themselves in Rent Court are represented by a lawyer, while 96% of landlords have representation.
- The General Assembly passed HB18 in 2021 to help low-income renters access legal counsel, reducing evictions and saving the state and local jurisdictions tens of millions of dollars. HB724 would fund this program without placing any additional financial burden on renters.
- This bill is sponsored by Senator Craig Zucker and Delegate Ben Barnes.
- Allow Rental Assistance to Work (HB674/SB384)
- Currently, many renters who are experiencing difficulties paying rent are still facing eviction despite applying for emergency rental assistance, and some landlords are refusing to accept rental assistance funds even when renters have been approved. When landlords refuse to file their portion of the paperwork required for emergency assistance, renters are left with no way to get the assistance they have been promised.
- To ensure that rental assistance is being used in the most effective way possible, we will work with our partners on a bill to require judges stay evictions when rental assistance applications are pending.
- This bill is sponsored by Senator Shelly Hettleman and Delegate Vaughn Stewart.
Additional Legislative Positions:
In addition to JUFJ’s key legislative priorities, we support and will provide testimony on the following bills:
- Eviction Diversion (HB691/SB564) – Increase due process for renters facing eviction and provide increased opportunities for existing protections and resources to reach resolutions other than eviction.
- Just Cause Eviction (HB881) – Prohibit landlords from terminating or not renewing leases unless they have a legitimate reason to do so.
- Tenant Screening (HB134) – Reform the tenant screening industry, which is currently a barrier to housing.
- Tenants’ Right to Organize (HB392) – Establish a right for renters to organize among themselves for collective action in tenant/landlord matters and prevent landlord interference.
- Tenant Protection Act (HB86/SB6) – Provides Maryland renters four concise, long-needed, meaningful reforms that help balance landlord-tenant relations.
- Lead Inspection Certificate and Rental License Proof in Failure to Pay Rent actions (HB101) – This will provide more enforcement of lead inspection and rental licensing requirements.
- Rental License Proof in Failure to Pay Rent actions (HB174) – Supports localities in the enforcement of their rental licensing ordinances.
- Reducing Eviction Filings (HB298/SB223) – raises filing fees for landlords to evict renters
One who rents a house to another is obligated to construct doors and to fix broken windows, to reinforce the ceiling and to fix broken beams, and to provide a bolt and a lock and similar things which are produced by skilled craftspeople and which are essential to living in a house.
– Maimonides, Laws of Rental 6:3
The Torah obligates us to preserve our own life and health, and that of others. The Gemara in Bava Kamma teaches that, in response to a plague, we have an obligation to stay in our homes as much as possible. We are also taught that all people should have dei machsoro, resources sufficient for each person’s needs. (Deut. 15:7-8) Consequently, society has an obligation to make sure that people can stay in their homes, especially during a time of pandemic.
Safe and stable housing has far reaching economic, health, and social benefits to individuals, families, and communities, and is key to reducing racial inequities. Renters routinely have little agency when faced with threats to maintaining stable housing. Now many are confronting increased economic hardship, the shortcomings of eviction mitigation policy, and the extreme threat to health resulting from homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The People: Renters who are living at or below the poverty line and/or who have experienced pandemic-related loss of income. Those who find themselves in rent court are overwhelmingly women, African Americans, households with minor children, and who receive no housing subsidy.
- Emergency Response:
- Eviction prevention – Expand current policy to cover all eviction filings until January 31, 2022 to allow for economic recovery and additional legislative action as needed.
- Robust rental assistance – Allocate at least $244M to provide rental assistance for citizens and non-citizens to prevent evictions. Funds should go directly to landlords, who would have to certify that the money is used to satisfy the debt of their tenants.
- Just Cause Eviction – Prohibit landlords from terminating the lease of a tenant unless they have a legitimate reason to do so. During a pandemic, failure to pay rent is not a legitimate reason. Landlords should not be permitted to terminate leases or choose not to renew them unless they truly have a good reason.
- Tenant Screening Reform – Establish tenant screening regulations to prevent the use of irrelevant, incomplete or inaccurate information that creates barriers to adequate housing. Tenants should have a rapid method to challenge questionable information. Expungement of eviction records should be permitted and evictions that do not involve monetary issues should be excluded from credit reports.
- Structural Change:
- Safe and habitable housing – Reform the rent escrow process and enforcement mechanisms for tenants whose landlords fail to remedy unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Legislation should define uniform standards for mold assessment and remediation, and allow a renter to terminate a lease early if defects are not addressed.
- Due process – Change the process for eviction filings to be more fair and equitable for renters. Specifically, tenants should have at least 21 days notice rather than 5 days from the filling of an eviction complaint to a court date.
- Right to Counsel – Provide tenants with the right to legal counsel/representation in rent court. This would provide greater equity in court, where currently less than 5% of tenants have legal counsel, while landlords are represented in over 95% of cases. Moreover, a recent study in Baltimore City concluded that establishing a right to counsel would reduce evictions and thereby save the State $18.1M due to decreased Medicaid and foster care costs.
- Collection of eviction data – Establish a system to accurately track eviction data across Maryland that would better define the scope of the problem and guide the development of policy to reduce the incidence of eviction and stabilize housing.
Key Partners: CASA, Renters’ United Maryland.
October 3 | 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Join JUFJers from across Baltimore to discuss our ongoing issue campaign work. We will share updates for all the local campaigns and brainstorm on how to move the work forward.
October 13 | 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm
Join us for our next Housing Team meeting to get updates about current affordable housing campaigns and take action together.