The Detroit ban on evictions ended Saturday night, Detroit tenants like Torianna Stevenson are worried.
Stevenson, 27, lost her job as a child care provider in March and has been unable to return to work because her day care is closed until September. She had trouble receiving unemployment benefits and is behind on two months of rent and late fees — about $1,500.
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“I have two children and we just moved in here before the pandemic started. I don’t have much family in the city of Detroit so if I did get put out, I don’t have anywhere to go. My kids don’t have anywhere to go. … My main focus is having a stable place for me and my children to stay.”
Recently, her landlord notified her of back rent due and advised her to reach out to local legal aid, which she did. Stevenson wants to avoid getting an eviction notice and going to court in the first place.
She is one of hundreds of Detroiters who could potentially face eviction now that the moratorium ordered by 36th District Court expires. It ended at 11:59 p.m. Saturday after being extended to implement eviction diversion programs.
A state moratorium on residential evictions for nonpayment expired July 16. The 36th District Court began its ban on March 13, prior to the statewide prohibition.
The court estimates a backlog of about 900 cases and expects to hold hearings for 200 to 300 cases that were not already resolved, said Chief Judge William McConico.
Hearings will begin this week. Other than an emergency eviction signed by a judge, no eviction should take place prior to that time, he said.
“Any evictions that were in process prior to the moratorium must be scheduled for a new hearing to determine the current circumstances for the property,” McConico said by email. “Following that hearing, an eviction order may be issued and the eviction process may proceed, based upon the determination of the court.”
Eviction hearings will be held virtually, unless residents are unable to access the internet or a phone. Those who have to appear in person must go through a health screening before entering the building, wear a mask and practice social distancing.
After the moratorium ends, landlords can start sending tenants 7-day eviction notices and a pretrial hearing can be scheduled within 10 days.
The state estimated a backlog of tens of thousands of eviction filings. According to the State Court Administrative Office, statewide filings this year have started to increase but remain less than the year before. During the week of Aug. 2 this year, there were 1,818 filings. Last year, during the week of Aug. 4, there were 2,015 filings, according to the most recent data available.
This could change once the Detroit moratorium ends.
“I think we’re still concerned about a large number of evictions all at once and a lack of places for people to go,” said Ted Phillips, executive director of United Community Housing Coalition.
He said Detroit’s moratorium on evictions allowed UCHC to help settle cases for tenants who otherwise would have been subject to evictions in the month since the state’s ban expired.
McConico said filings could increase or decrease based on the unemployment rate, any extra federal unemployment benefits to come and the state’s Eviction Diversion Program — a $50 million effort implemented to help landlords and tenants.
The city of Detroit last month announced an additional $6.4 million in federal aid for renters facing eviction and a program offering free legal defense and rental assistance. Visit DetroitEvictionHelp.com or call 866-313-2520 for more information.
Nationally, mass evictions loom.
An estimated 30 million to 40 million people in America could be at risk of eviction in the next several months, according to the Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C. A federal moratorium on evictions ended July 24.
The Detroit court does not plan to extend the moratorium unless there is another one at the federal or state level. There are programs like free legal representation, relocation assistance, utilities assistance and mediation to help tenants and landlords, McConico said.
“Those resources cannot be fully accessed while the moratorium is in effect,” he said, adding that “judges and staff have been working tirelessly to prepare for the resumption of our landlord-tenant docket.”
Jeffrey Scott, co-owner of Plymouth-based Michigan Management and Property Maintenance, which manages about 50 properties in Detroit, said he’s not going to send out any notices until around Sept. 7 so tenants understand that the moratorium has cleared and “make sure everybody’s on the same page.”
“We’ve been working with people in whatever ways necessary to give them extra time to come up with money to help them find new places to get money,” he said, pointing to payment plans between landlords and tenants.
Scott said landlords are trying to connect tenants with resources like local churches providing aid and that “realistically, a physical eviction benefits no one” and that it’s an “absolute last resort.”
Although only 5% of tenants under his management company are behind on rent — which is comparable to last year — the amount they owe is much higher, he said.
Supporters are ready
Legal aid organizations expect a spike in calls when the Detroit moratorium lifts.
Lakeshore Legal Aid has seen an uptick in landlord-tenant calls since the statewide moratorium ended, said staff development director Kellie Maki Foster. In Detroit, Lakeshore has received 5,126 calls to its hotline for eviction help and 513 online applications. Before the pandemic shutdowns in March, it handled 303 landlord-tenant cases.
For Stevenson, until she returns to her job in September, avoiding an eviction is top of mind.
“I have bills. I have kids. I’m not making enough to maintain all of this,” she said.
Advice for renters
Michigan Legal Help, a program that helps people navigate legal problems, shares this advice for people who may face eviction:
- Tenants cannot be evicted without an eviction order. When the moratorium lifts, enforcement of these orders can resume.
- Monitor any mail, email or phone calls from the court. Because of the backlog of cases, hearing dates may change several times. Read any materials carefully and call the court for questions.
- Communicate with landlords. Some landlords have been able to work out agreements with tenants, including forbearances, waivers and repayment plans,
- Attend remote hearings, and if unable to, let the court know.
- Reach out to legal aid programs like the ones listed below, which offer legal assistance to qualifying tenants.