Urging Governor Mills to life moratorium on evictions & her response

I’d like to address the issue of the executive order regarding evictions. For the most part, rental units in our communities (and especially here in Kennbec County and more rural areas) are owned by “salt of the earth mom and pop” types who own a handful of rental units and earn less in salary than some of our tenants.

The barrier to entry in our business is high: Down payments of 25% are the norm to purchase a rental property. Furthermore, roughly fifty percent of our prospective “customers” lie to us at some level to gain entrance to our rental units, and one bad tenant can cost thousands in lost rent, damages, cleaning, and even legal fees (most of which we are prohibited from collecting). The average “take home pay” for a rental unit is between $25 and $100 per month per unit.

My wife Deb and I personally own 5 buildings, totaling 29 units and have at least 3 tenants who earn far more than we do. These buildings are our primary source of income. Our “take home pay” puts us barely into the mid point of middle-class. We are fortunate, in that as of July 1st we have not had a single missed rent payment, and we’re 100% rented. And frankly, we’re the rule and not the exception. Most of my colleagues have had very little disruption thus far.

Now, although I understand the importance of not having a slew of homeless people introduced into society during this precarious time, I believe that the current executive order unnecessarily endangers the livelihood of many hard-working middle class landlords; people who represent the second largest industry in Maine. Very few evictions lead to homelessness, at least in our area. When a person is evicted for non-payment of rent, they generally use the money they withheld from their landlord to fund their move in expenses for their next apartment. Alternately, they may stay with friends or family, people they’d be in close proximity with anyway. Hence the moratorium does very little to mitigate homelessness, but does much financial harm to hard-working, productive Maine landlords.

An unfortunate and unintended consequence of this order is that the very people who are financially unsound and irresponsible are given the upper hand. I believe that some allowance of discretion should be given to landlords. We know which of our tenants should be assisted and which ones are just taking advantage. This executive order implies that we’re not capable of using, or willing to use such discretion. It protects a few at the cost of many.

Additionally, the wording is grossly misunderstood and abused by the very group of people most likely to take unfair advantage of the order. The message received by them is “Governor Mills says I don’t have to pay rent.” You and I know that’s not the spirit of the order in the least but the very people who don’t have the sense to save up for a rainy day are the ones who don’t have the capacity to understand the intent and content of the executive order.

Furthermore, to postpone court evictions is largely unnecessary. Despite the wording of landlord-tenant law, it takes roughly double the stated time to get an unwilling-to-move tenant out of an apartment. (Roughly two months from first termination notice until execution of writ). Our hands are already tied in many ways, and this executive order all but guarantees an unfair share of hardship for those landlords who constitute the second largest industry in Maine.

Thank you for all you are doing and thank you for listening. What a thankless job you’ve landed yourself! We pray you find some joy in your role during these difficult days. And we hope you take these words in the spirit of hope and optimism in which they were intended.

Ken & Deb LaVoie
Southern Angel Properties

From Dorian Cole
Director of Constituent Correspondence
Office of Governor Janet T. Mills

Thank you for contacting Governor Mills with your concerns about restrictions on evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Governors’ Executive Order #40 does not interfere with evictions brought to remove tenants who threaten the safety or property of others. Further, the Order does still require tenants to pay the amounts they owe, including back pay. However, as a separate branch of government, the Judiciary makes their own decisions about their operations; the Governor does not have authority to open the courts. The courts, like many entities, have been open for months for limited types of business. As you know, one category of cases that has been postponed are the enforcement of eviction actions. The Judiciary informs us that eviction, foreclosure, collections, disclosures, small claims, and the violations bureau are currently scheduled to start up again on August 3, and that the clerks can start scheduling those case types at any time for dates in August.

Governor Mills understands the challenges the pandemic and the subsequent closure of the courts has caused to many landlords across the state. That is why she sent letters to Maine financial institutions urging them to work proactively with Maine property owners who are landlords – those who are responsible for thousands of rental apartments, homes, retail, and other commercial establishments – and are experiencing financial hardship from COVID-19. They deserve flexibility from their lenders as many of their own tenants find themselves unable to pay rent right now. These property owners are an important part of the economy that will need time to recover, and they are key to keeping people in their homes during our emergency orders and to keeping small businesses ready to reopen when this crisis has passed.

Currently, 31 states and DC have halt evictions orders in place. The remaining states have either had orders in place that have expired, their courts have been closed, and a handful never had any halt eviction orders in place. Please rest assured, Governor Mills will continue to seek solutions to address rental income shortages with the Legislature and Maine’s Congressional delegation.

Thank you,

Dorian Cole
Director of Constituent Correspondence
Office of Governor Janet T. Mills

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