State Eviction Moratorium Does Not Protect Tenants In Every Case

Aug 14, 2020

Millions of Americans face losing their homes after the federal moratorium on evictions expired last month, and Congress adjourned this week without passing a new one. President Trump signed an executive order this week addressing evictions, but housing experts say it provides no real protection for most tenants. New Mexico’s moratorium on evictions is still in effect, but as University of New Mexico law professor Serge Martinez tells KUNM’s Megan Kamerick, it doesn’t apply to every situation.

MARTINEZ: If you're not paying your rent and the landlord sued to evict you on the basis of non-payment of rent, and you can show the court that you are having a current financial hardship that makes it so you can't pay rent, then the stay will apply to you. But there's a lot of other ways and reasons that folks get evicted, right: for violating the lease for conduct, or the lease just ends, or it's month-to-month lease that doesn't get renewed. The stay also only applies if you go to court and raise this with the court, and not everybody knows that or does that.

And so it's not a blanket prohibition on eviction and even the folks that it absolutely would cover don't always know that it applies to them. But even if it does apply to you, it just means you can't be displaced. You still can get an order of eviction, which then it's on your record. It can disqualify you from certain housing benefits. It is an unqualified, bad thing to have an eviction on your record. Many landlords look at that and disqualify folks, right? Nobody ever gets evicted and then moves into better housing.

KUNM: You still have to go to court if you're sued and get a notice of eviction?

MARTINEZ: Absolutely. There's been some misconception out there. I think about does this day mean they don't have to do anything right? You still have to go to court, say “I can't pay the rent because I'm having a hardship.” And the courts have been pretty good at sort of applying this rule when it comes up. But if you don't show up, their hands are tied.

KUNM: Do you have to show up in person?

MARTINEZ: So here in Bernalillo County, it's all by telephone or by video. In our metro court, you can appear relatively easily.

KUNM: What should renters do if they get an eviction notice?

MARTINEZ: I mean, the first thing I think you should do is before you even get it, is talk to your landlord about what's going on. In my conversations with landlords, they've been pretty clear: “Look, we get it. We're not unaware that there's a pandemic going on.” And for the most part, if their tenants are able to communicate with them, they're more open to working with the tenants. The vast majority of landlords do not like evicting people and displacing families, especially in a public health crisis.

But if it does come to that point and you get a notice, it will tell you come to court on this date and you have to figure out how to do that because you will lose, you will get evicted, you will have a judgment against you if you don't go. Nothing good comes from skipping your court date.

KUNM: There is a recently created mediation program in the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court to help in disputes between landlords and tenants. Do you know if this has been helpful?

MARTINEZ: There's certainly some promise to mediation, right? Having a mediator talk to everybody about what's going on, I mean, especially in this moment, explaining [so] the landlord understands [that] you can get this piece of paper, but you're still going to have this person living in your residence while the stay is going on. I mean, I'm hearing anecdotally things about it, you know, about success stories. I think the resources to make sure everybody gets it before they have a hearing, and you know, we divert people sooner rather than later... they're still building up those resources. I think, though, it's a great idea.

KUNM: Are there resources available to help people with meeting their rent right now?

MARTINEZ: That is a great question. And the answer is yes, but not nearly enough. And yes, but some of those programs, I think, are still taking shape. Not everybody's aware of what programs there are or what the criteria are for getting those resources. These resources are strained because everybody right now is trying to get at them.. There's a proposal that's, I think, going to be put forward next week to allocate $300,000 I think, from the city for this, which is a great start. But the numbers that I'm seeing - add a zero or two to that in terms of what would be needed to help people pay the rent.

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