NM Supreme Court to end eviction moratorium, transition to new eviction diversion program
After reviewing eviction diversion programs from other states like Illinois and Florida, the New Mexico Supreme Court last week announced its own, soon bringing an end to the state’s moratorium on evictions after 2 years. The state will transition to the new diversion program – first with a pilot program in Eastern New Mexico starting February 1st, then the rest of the state will follow in March. Maria Griego from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty told KUNM how the new Eviction Prevention and Diversion Program will work.
MARIA GRIEGO: So just to give some background, in March of 2020, the [New Mexico] Supreme Court issued a moratorium on evictions for non payment of rent. Landlords could still file eviction cases, but the eviction orders would be stayed, meaning there was a temporary hold on them. The Eviction Diversion Program is actually a really smart way to start phasing out of those temporary protections. Right now the eviction moratoria are still in place statewide. I think that's important to know.
The eviction diversion program doesn't even start till February 1, but it'll be a pilot program in Roosevelt and Curry counties. So, cities and towns there are Portales and Clovis. And so what it's going to require is that if you are a landlord that had filed an eviction case between March of 2020 and February of 2022, and that case has been temporarily on hold. You must almost start over. You have to file a new form with a court saying "There's still an issue here, I still have a tenant who owes me," and when you start that case the court's going to give you a resource packet as the landlord of information that your tenants can use to try and get rental assistance. They have to give them at least 11 days before the hearing is scheduled to apply for assistance. And in the hearing, the court will inform the parties that there is this new Eviction Diversion Program and that there's millions of dollars in our state right now for rental assistance. And if they agree to go forward and try and get that money so that landlords can get paid the money they're owed and the tenants can just pay off what's owed and stay in their homes, then the court puts the hearing on hold for 60 days. And in 60 days, the court asks you to come back in and says "Has everyone been paid what they're owed? Are there any issues? Can the tenant still stay in their home?"
And so this is a really positive program. It was worked on by organizations from both sides: New Mexico Legal Aid, the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Supreme Court and members of the landlords' bar [Apartment Association of New Mexico] as well. So this was all groups coming together and saying "How can we phase out of this moratorium in a really thoughtful way that protects the rights of everyone involved?"
KUNM: I wonder if you have any concerns going into the pilot period?
GRIEGO: It's always possible that the parties won't agree to participate. In that case, I think if one party agrees to participate and the other doesn't a court could exercise it's equitable powers to have the parties participate. There's a possibility that everyone applies and the application doesn't get processed within that 60 days. But the good thing is, is if the parties know that there's something in the works they can ask for an extension of time.
KUNM: Now one of the big complaints we've heard of many of the pandemic aid programs, including the eviction moratorium, was about bureaucratic barriers, like long applications. Do you see anything like that coming up again with this diversion program?
GRIEGO: I think once the word gets out it should be a fairly easy to navigate program. There is the issue with the rental assistance programs often taking some time to get the money out. And you know, there are many factors involved there. Sometimes they contact landlords and they don't get a response or it's unclear what if a tenant gets approved for, let's just say $3,000, does it cover the last three months? Does it cover a portion of this month in the two months going forward? And so we and some other advocates are working with the Department of Finance and Administration to clarify some of those problems that we keep seeing come up over and over again.
KUNM: This diversion program is set to replace the statewide eviction moratorium. I'm wondering if we're far enough into that now that you have a good sense of whether it did what it was supposed to do.
GRIEGO: On paper it was a great step taken by the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, there are courts and were courts throughout the state that have not followed the order of the Supreme Court. And so we have seen inconsistent application. That has been a problem certainly throughout the pandemic. I have two cases right now, where the judge just did not apply the stay.
KUNM: Is New Mexico, and I'm talking about the government and the citizens, are we ready to move forward, away from the moratorium and into diversion?
GRIEGO: I think the good thing about the Eviction Diversion Program is there's a real focus on rental assistance. The moratoria were issued before all this money was available for rental assistance and so the orders from the Supreme Court staying evictions didn't address rental assistance. But now that we have all this money available, I think it's a good way to start getting folks to apply if they haven't applied already.
This segment is part of our #YourNMGov project, a collaboration between KUNM radio and New Mexico PBS. Support for public media provided by the Thornburg Foundation.