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 three years: all people should be able to stay in their homes, especially during a pandemic.
The pandemic is ongoing, and many are still confronting increased economic hardship, skyrocketing rents, the shortcomings of eviction prevention policy, and the extreme threat to health resulting from homelessness. Emergency rental assistance and holding illegally operating landlords accountable are two critical interventions that can help keep thousands of Marylanders housed right now.
The 2023 legislative session has adjourned! We and our partners helped secure $2M for emergency rental assistance in FY24, and also helped pass legislation to ensure safe and habitable housing for renters. To learn more, click here.
- Renters living at or below the poverty line and/or who have experienced pandemic-related loss of income. People who face eviction in Rent Court are overwhelmingly Black women, households with minor children, and people who do not receive a housing subsidy.
- Senate Judicial Proceedings (JPR), Chair: Will Smith (Montgomery County)
- House Judiciary Committee (JUD), Chair: Luke Clippinger (Baltimore City)
- Senate Budget and Taxation (B&T), Chair: Guy Guzzone (Howard County)
- House Appropriations (APP), Chair: Ben Barnes (Anne Arundel & Prince George’s Counties)
2023 Legislative Details:
- Emergency Rental Assistance (Budget Request)
- Rental assistance funds that were made available during the pandemic are running out across our state as rents skyrocket and evictions return to pre-pandemic levels.
- Rental assistance funds over the past few years have prevented more than 100,000 households from being evicted.
- Evictions have catastrophic impacts on mental and physical health, financial security, the ability to secure housing in the future, employment, educational outcomes, and community safety and stability.
- Currently, more than 108,000 households are behind on rent payments in Maryland.
- This is a racial justice issue; 80% of those behind on rent are people of color.
- Of those “very likely” to be evicted in the next two months, 98% are families with children.
- To address this critical issue, we advocated for emergency rental assistance to prevent evictions, maintain the infrastructure built during the pandemic so that we’re prepared for the next crisis, and keep thousands of Marylanders housed, which is key to reducing racial inequities and strengthening individuals, families, and our communities.
- No funding for emergency rental assistance appeared in the FY24 budget. However, we and our partners successfully secured $2 million for this critical eviction prevention tool. This allocation is a far cry from the $175 million we were originally demanding, but slightly exceeds pre-pandemic levels of funding and sets the stage for continued advocacy on this issue.
- Holding Illegally Operating Landlords Accountable (HB36/SB100)
- In 2021 The Maryland Court of Appeals created a loophole that enables illegally operating landlords to use the expedited eviction process, incentivizing them to violate local rental licensing and inspection laws meant to ensure safe and habitable housing for renters.
- Illegally operating landlords collect rent and when renters complain about conditions, they just evict them and get new renters. This is unjust and unsafe for Maryland residents.
- During the 2022 session, we and our partners helped pass a bill (SB563), which Governor Hogan vetoed, to uphold rental licensing programs and prevent illegally operating landlords from using the expedited eviction process. This kept rental licensing programs created by local jurisdictions unenforceable.
- During the 2023 session, we successfully returned to the General Assembly to pass this same bill, sponsored by Senator Shelly Hettleman and Delegate Mary Lehman.
Key Partners: Renters United Maryland, including: CASA, Health Care for the Homeless, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Public Justice Center, and Disability Rights Maryland
As we build on our organizing and advocacy from the past few years, JUFJ prioritizes deepening relationships with existing partners and coalitions and honoring the commitments we have made in past years. To maximize our effectiveness, we engage in a full scope of work on a limited number of campaigns, and impact other campaigns in a more limited way by submitting official JUFJ testimony and/or signing JUFJ’s name to a list of supporters.
For more information about our additional legislative positions, click here.
For more information about our agenda setting process for the Maryland 2023 state legislative session, click here.
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.
Montgomery County HOME Act House Party (Indoor)
June 1 | 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Our Jewish traditions and texts teach us that everyone deserves a stable home, and JUFJ is fighting for the right to housing in Montgomery County! Join us for an indoor house party to build community and power and take action to keep all of our neighbors housed.
Montgomery County Renter Protection Community Picnic
June 4 | 3:00 pm – 5:30 pm
Our Jewish traditions and texts teach us that everyone deserves a stable home, and JUFJ is fighting for the right to housing in Montgomery County. Join us and our partners in the HOME Act Coalition for a picnic to celebrate our community and take action for renter protections!
Montgomery County HOME Act House Party (Virtual)
June 5 | 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Our Jewish traditions and texts teach us that everyone deserves a stable home, and JUFJ is fighting for the right to housing in Montgomery County! Join us for a virtual house party to build community and power and take action to keep all of our neighbors housed.
Baltimore Action Team Meeting
June 5 | 7:00 pm – 8:30 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.
MOLLY AMSTER MARYLAND POLICY DIRECTOR & BALTIMORE DIRECTOR
LAURA WALLACE MARYLAND ORGANIZING DIRECTOR & MONTGOMERY COUNTY DIRECTOR
MATAN ZEIMER MARYLAND SENIOR ORGANIZER
ELIANNA COOPER MARYLAND COMMUNITY ORGANIZER