The Federal Eviction Moratorium was recently stricken down by the Supreme Court. Thousands of tenants in Maryland are subject to eviction. Congress has done nothing to renew it, so there is no federal lgal protection from eviction right now.
If you, or someone you know, is subject to an eviction because they fell behind on rent during the Covid 19 pandemic, make sure they read this article!
There are at least 3 good, legal ways to stop or delay your eviction. Any one of them could buy you precious time to make sure your family isn’t homeless.
The three ways are (a) get the federal rent relief money, (b) pay your back rent – but not necessarily all of your back rent, and (c) file for bankruptcy.
The Process of Eviction
First, you should understand the steps in the process of eviction. When you get behind on your rent, your landlord can take you to court. Maryland has a special landlord-tenant court that provides quick trial dates and simplified rules. That makes it easy for a landlord to get a judgment against you for the rent. But they still have to take further steps to turn that judgment into an eviction.
Step 1 = the landlord must file a complaint. That complaint is served on you by the Sheriff, or taped to your door. The complaint will include a court date. If the landlord gets a judgment after the trial date, they have to wait 4 days before they can do anything.
If you don’t pay your rent in that 4 day time period, the landlord has to file another document with the court. This is called the “Warrant of Restitution.” Once signed by a Judge, this is an order from the court to the Sheriff to evict you, and give the landlord back the property.
Usually, the warrant will go to the bottom of the Sheriff’s pile. They will put you on the (probably very long) list and serve it when they get around to it. So even if you are in this position, you probably have more time than you think.
The sheriff must serve you or the property (by taping it to the door again) with notice of the date of the eviction. If you are paying any attention at all, you will know it is coming. You will have time (usually a week) to voluntarily move out.
That is process so you know what to expect. But how can you stop or delay your eviction now that the Federal Eviction Moratorium is over? Here are three good, legal ways.
(1) The Maryland Emergency Rental Assistance Program
The federal government has provided money to the states to pay your rent. It is a LOT of money, and the states have been slow to dole it out.
The money should go to tenants if you are unable to pay your rent due to Covid 19. This program is run by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, but you have to apply through your local county office.
All of the details are best seen by going to this link – https://dhcd.maryland.gov/Pages/EvictionPrevention/default.aspx
That page has more links to each county agency where you can apply for this assistance. Links to each agency, and more details, are on the main page linked in the paragraph above.
If you are behind on your rent and facing eviction, you should at least go through the application process and try to get some money for your rent – even if you think you won’t qualify.
(2) The Right of Redemption: Pay Your Rent – But Not All of Your Rent
Here is a secret many tenants don’t know. Even if the Warrant of Restitution is signed and in the Sheriff’s pile to execute, you can stop the eviction by just paying your rent – but usually not all of your rent.
You have the right to pay your back rent and stop the eviction – right up to the day of the eviction. This is called the “right of redemption.”
What most people don’t know is that you only have to pay the rent due on the judgment – not all the rent due as of the date of eviction.
When your landlord got a judgment, she got a judgment for the amount of rent due on the day of trial. That might only be one month’s rent, or maybe two. It may take a couple of months to schedule the eviction after the trial date. By then you could owe several more months rent. But you do not have to pay all of that rent to stop the eviction.
You only have to pay the amount of rent shown due on the judgment, plus any court costs and fees awarded by the court. If you pay that amount, you stay in your house.
If the landlord wants to get a new judgment for the higher amount of rent due at the time of eviction, she has to go back to court and start the whole process over again, suing for the additional rent due as of that date.
Now, it goes without saying that you should not abuse this right of redemption. The landlord can, and will, foreclose your right of redemption if they have to file 3 times in a twelve month period. So, you cannot do this forever. They will catch up with you.
But it can give you some time to find alternate housing if you need it desperately.
If you are facing eviction, filing for bankruptcy can help you in two ways.
First, it can buy time – time for you to get caught up on your rent. It does this by stopping all civil court actions immediately.
When you file a bankruptcy, an automatic stay goes into effect. The Automatic Stay stops most Court actions. If you are facing a court date or eviction date over unpaid rent, filing a bankruptcy will cancel the court date in most situations. Depending on the type of bankruptcy you file this can buy you the time to work on getting caught up, getting financial help, or just time to make the move.
There are limits on this Automatic Stay. If the landlord already has the signed Warrant of Restitution, the stay may not stop the eviction. Ideally you would file bankruptcy before the first court date in Landlord & Tenant court – before they get the judgment. Also, if you have filed bankruptcy before, the stay may only last 30 days. If you have had multiple bankruptcy cases dismissed, the Stay may not go into effect at all. For more details, talk to a bankruptcy lawyer.
If you file for bankruptcy and plan to discharge the rent due on the lease, the landlord can file a motion to lift the Stay. If the Bankruptcy Court grants the motion the landlord can then proceed with the eviction. But this takes time – at least 30 days. So it does buy you some valuable time.
Second, a bankruptcy can discharge back rent due, and any rent that you are responsible for in the future. If you owe a lot of back rent, or maybe future rent that will be due until your lease runs out, a bankruptcy can discharge that debt. Bankruptcy can also help you have some control over your situation – rather than just getting sued for all your back debts.
Staying and getting caught up: Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy can help you stop an eviction and get caught up on your back rent (and other debts) over a 3-5 year repayment plan.
In this type of bankruptcy, you file a proposed “plan payment”. You make this payment each month to a Trustee. That plan payment will cover your back rent and some of your other debts. You then negotiate with the Trustee over the final payment and get Court approval.
Then you make that plan until the plan is over, and you get your fresh start then. Once your bankruptcy petition is filed, you also need to start making the regular rent payments that come due. This is an excellent idea if you have back rent and other debts, and you need that fresh start to get back on your feet.
Moving Out and Avoiding the debt: If you can’t afford a Chapter 13 payment plan, you might look at filing a Chapter 7 Liquidation bankruptcy. Filing a Chapter 7 can wipe out your obligation to pay the bank rent, and anything owed on the remainder of the lease.
When you file a Chapter 7 you may also get the benefit of the Automatic Stay. This can buy you some time to get caught up on your rent, apply for emergency eviction prevention funds, or just find a new place to live.
Find out all the details of filing bankruptcy by clicking this link, or just call us for a consultation with a Maryland bankruptcy lawyer.
Conclusion & Next Steps
Don’t wait. When facing eviction, timing is everything. The sooner you act the more options you have. Don’t wait to find out your options.
Knowing your options—even if that option is filing for bankruptcy—is better than not having any answers at all. Even if things work out and you don’t have to file for bankruptcy, you won’t regret having learned about your options.
Want to know more? Discover what you need to know about Bankruptcy in Maryland. Click here to see our Free Legal Guide to Maryland Bankruptcy and get answers to your questions today. Know your options. Be informed. Protect yourself.
Need a Bankruptcy attorney? Please contact us for a consultation today if you need an experienced Maryland bankruptcy lawyer for your bankruptcy case.
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