On April 16, Gov. Janet Mills signed an executive order in hopes of keeping Maine’s residential and commercial renters in their homes and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused many to struggle financially. Her actions could affect many people in the University of Maine community as a large population of UMaine students have signed rental agreements and may be facing unemployment because of the economic shutdown.
The executive order, which works with an order the Maine Court System issued on March 18, will “prevent the immediate eviction of tenants other than those who engage in dangerous or unlawful conduct for the duration of the state of emergency,” according to the Maine.gov website. Additionally, Mills signed an executive order which has extended the timeframe that landlords have to conduct the eviction process in the event that the courts reopen before the governor’s state of emergency is terminated.
The executive order increases the penalties for landlords that attempt to unlawfully evict a tenant. The order states that the legal action that could be taken against landlords could consist of up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine for unlawful actions. The unlawful eviction circumstances also protect tenants from landlords turning off utilities to coerce tenants into vacating the premises.
Tenants that cannot pay their rent, but are considered “at-will” because they don’t have a legal agreement with their landlord are also protected by Mills’ executive order. The order now requires landlords to provide at least 60-day notice, compared to the typical 30-day notice, to their “at-will” tenants. In the case that a landlord wants to evict a tenant that is “at-will,”, the executive order now requires these tenants to receive a 30-day notice of impending eviction, rather than just seven.
However, the executive order makes it clear that Maine tenants have not been relieved of their legal obligation to pay rent to their landlord. Rather, the order provides them with more time to make their rent payments. Additionally, this order continues to allow landlords to evict tenants that conduct themselves in an unlawful or harmful manner, as they always have been able to do.
In addition, Mills has collaborated with MaineHouse to create the COVID-19 Rent Relief Program. This $5 million relief program will assist Maine people that cannot pay their rent due to the financial hardship that the pandemic has incited. To qualify for this program, households will need to meet certain income criteria and ability to pay requirements, according to the Maine.gov website. If a household qualifies, they will receive a one-time payment of up to $500 to cover their rent. This money will be paid directly to their landlord. The Bangor Daily News wrote that the money for this program comes from real estate transfer taxes flowing into another Maine State Housing Authority fund.
In the executive order, Mills encouraged Maine landlords to avoid eviction and to work with their tenants facing financial trouble during this difficult time. In addition, she wrote a letter to financial institutions and trade groups for banks and credit unions, encouraging them not to foreclose on commercial and residential properties, as many people in Maine can’t pay their mortgages during this crisis.
This executive order could affect a number of people in the UMaine community that are renting a living space or storefront, and others that are renting out their residential or commercial property. As UMaine’s campus shut down for the remainder of the semester and a number of businesses close their doors, many members of the community are facing financial trouble. A number of students have signed leases that legally require them to pay rent until the end of May, and for others, until the end of August. Mills’ executive order provides these students with some support, as they will be given more time to pay their rent. Additionally, there is the potential for some students to qualify for financial assistance under the COVID-19 Rent Relief Program, assuming the student meets the qualifications.
For more information on the COVID-19 Rent Relief Program visit MaineHousing.org.