- Associated Press - Monday, December 28, 2020

BALTIMORE (AP) - Democratic lawmakers and housing advocates in Maryland are eyeing legislation to extend restrictions on evictions and offer other protections to renters amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Baltimore Sun reports that the bills expected to be introduced after the General Assembly convenes next month include a measure that would bar all eviction filings other than those that cite an “imminent threat” until April 2022.

Other legislation would encourage landlords to seek alternatives before filing for eviction and establish a statewide right-to-counsel for tenants.

A $2 trillion coronavirus relief and federal spending package that President Donald Trump signed on Monday includes $25 billion in rental assistance and extend a federal eviction moratorium through the end of January.

But advocates said Monday that more needs to be done.

Del. Jheanelle Wilkins of Montgomery County said she and Sen. Will Smith will be introducing a bill prohibiting landlords from raising rent or issuing late fees or interest charges during the epidemic.

Landlords also would be barred from terminating or not renewing leases unless they have a “legitimate reason” to do so.

Del. Melissa Wells of Baltimore said she and Sen. Charles Sydnor of Baltimore County will introduce a bill giving judges broader power to delay evictions and renters more time to prepare for trial, and establishing a process to create opportunities for resolutions short of evictions, such as mediated repayment plans.

Democratic Attorney General Brian Frosh joined lawmakers at Monday’s news conference said one of his top priorities is increasing the filing fees that landlords have to pay to begin the eviction process.

Frosh said he wants lawmakers to increase Maryland’s current fee of $15 to at least the national average of $120 and prohibit landlords from passing on that cost to tenants. Frosh said the fee increase would help fund legal representation for tenants in court.

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