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December 31, 2020

Maine renters are at lowest danger of getting evicted, national study shows

a pickup truck drives down a two lane street with triple deckers and multi family houses on either side Photo / Maureen Milliken Maine renters are the least at risk of being evicted, according to a study by a national business insurance company, but that doesn't mean the state's renters don't face challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maine residential renters have the lowest risk among those in all 50 states of being evicted, according to a study by small business insurance research website AdvisorSmith. But the state's renters still fear they'll lose the roof over their heads, similar studies show.

Some 6.3% of Maine renters were late on payments, and of those households, 2.8% were at risk of eviction in the next two months, the study showed. Statewide, 0.2% of renters were at risk for eviction in general. Researchers used U.S. Census Household Pulse data to determine the findings. 

Nationwide, 8.4% of households were at risk for eviction, the study found. Also, 17.1% of households nationwide were behind on their rent payments, and of these late paying households, 49.1% expected to be evicted within the next two months.

MaineHousing, which has partnered on the state to administer $28.4 million in rental assistance, said in November that 14,000 Mainers had taken advantage of the program, which will be extended through the new federal COVID-19 relief package.

Still, more than a quarter of Maine's residents are not confident they'll be able to make their next rent or mortgage payment, the Maine Center for Economic Policy found earlier this month, also using figures from the Census Household Pulse.

National, Maine eviction bans

The federal government's eviction ban was extended through the end of January with the latest COVID-19 relief package, with also provided another $25 billion for rental assistance, to be distributed by states and housing authorities.

The eviction ban applies to property owners with federally backed mortgages, who may not evict or initiate eviction of tenants whose income has been limited because of the pandemic. The owners also can't assess fees or penalties on tenants for late payment of rent. 

In Maine, the state government, working with MaineHousing, has several times extended a rental relief program that provides money to those who can't afford to pay their rent. So far, $28.4 million from the state's March CARES Act money has gone to renters for rent payments.

Gov. Janet Mills also issued an executive order in April preventing immediate eviction of tenants, other than those who engage in dangerous or unlawful conduct, for the duration of the state of emergency, which Mills recently extended into next year. The order also strengthened the penalties for landlords who try to evict tenants by unlawful means, and extended the timeframe for the eviction process in the event that the courts reopen before the state of emergency is terminated.

Maine rental assistance

In the latest round of MaineHousing rental assistance, applicants could apply for up to $1,000 each for October, November and December to pay both future and back rent, regardless of whether they'd also used the program earlier. While the program expired yesterday, a new one will launch in January once the details are worked out, the housing authority says on its website.

When an application is approved, the applicant’s local Community Action Agency pays the landlord directly. Landlords who receive the money agree to postpone the balance of what's owed, not forgive it. They also agree not to evict for non-payment of rent for the months for which the money is applied.

As of November, MaineHousing said 14,000 renters in the state had taken part in the program. Lewiston and Portland also have had separate rent relief programs for much of the pandemic.

“In the last weeks, we’ve heard from people who are thankful for this program because it’s helped them keep a roof over their heads,” MaineHousing Director Daniel Brennan said when the November extension was announced. “We’re grateful for Gov. Mills’ continued support of this program, and for the work that Maine’s Community Action Agencies are doing day in and day out to help Maine people.”

While the programs help, the Maine Center for Economic Policy recently reported that more than one in four renters — roughly 60,000 Mainers — said they had “slight” or “no” confidence they would make next month’s rent. Also, one-third of Maine adults — or roughly 356,000 Mainers — said they had trouble paying their usual household expenses, such as groceries, rent or utility bills. The figures, like the AdvisorSmith study, were based on U.S. Census Household Pulse data.

The Bangor Daily News reported last month that though the number of evictions heading to court is down from last year, the number if inquiries attorneys are getting related to evictions is up, sparked by concern about what will happen when the federal eviction ban ends. Pine Tree Legal Assistance, which provides legal help for low-income Mainers, has an FAQ on its website to help guide tenants through the COVID-19 eviction rules and process, as well as a weekly virtual series on eviction law.

How the nation compares to Maine

In the AdvisorSmith study, South Carolinians have the most risk of being evicted, with 33.9% of the state's residents behind on payments and 62.2% likely to be evicted in the next two months and 21.1% likely to be evicted in general. South Carolina was followed by Florida, Maryland, Arizona, Mississippi, Georgia, Delaware, Kansas, Ohio and Arkansas.

The state with the least amount of eviction risk after Maine is Vermont, where 0.9% tenants are at risk of being evicted, followed by Colorado, Hawaii, Iowa, Wisconsin, California, Alabama, Oregon and North Dakota.

The study points out that the economic impact of the pandemic has been unevenly distributed across the country, both in number of cases and impact on businesses and economic activity.

"Additionally, states vary in terms of their housing and rental stock and the amount of economic stress on their residents," AdvisorSmith says. "While the CDC has issued a nationwide moratorium on evictions, the application of this moratorium has been uneven, with some state courts ignoring the order, and many landlords and tenants unaware of the existence of the moratorium."

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