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Michigan's moratorium on evictions ends; Detroit tenants get extension through Aug. 15

Breana Noble and Jasmin Barmore
The Detroit News

Michigan residents who have fallen behind on their rent amid the novel coronavirus pandemic began receiving eviction notices after a four-month statewide moratorium lifted on Thursday, prompting some to fear "a flood of cases." 

That resumption immediately prompted a Detroit court to hold off expulsions for city residents. The 36th District Court on Thursday lengthened the prohibition on evictions in the city through Aug. 15.

And the earliest evictions that already had been signed by a judge will not begin until Aug. 16. There are 450 of these outstanding cases, 36th District Chief Judge William McConico said.

But elsewhere in Michigan, landlords now can issue a seven-day notice to their tenants facing eviction and file in court as early as July 23. A hearing must be scheduled within 10 days of that.

Levante Love in his apartment overlooking the Detroit skyline in Detroit, Michigan on July 16, 2020.

"What we anticipate is a flood of cases into the courts that will be triaged with cases alleging violence and criminality going first," said Tom Boyd, state court administrator. "So, if you file with the clerk on the 23rd, the chances your case is even heard by the 31st is unlikely."

Detroit resident Levante Love on Thursday was sent a notification to pay up or move out in the next seven days or face eviction. Love owes almost $3,450 in back rent.

"I was working for Quicken Loans and then at the end of February, beginning of March, I got really sick," said the 27-year-old resident of Regency Tower Apartments in the Elmwood Park neighborhood. "Shortly after that, I lost my job. ... I tried to fight it and pray about it. I filed for unemployment, and I am still waiting on my unemployment."

He found a new job last month, but it pays half what he made at Quicken. He is relieved the court extended the moratorium another 30 days but still worries how he is going to catch up on his rent.

“They sent us letters throughout the whole pandemic saying pay as much as you can as soon as you can, and that they understood the COVID situation," Love said. "But this was the real court paper.”

Previous statewide moratoriums required a 30-delay after their expiration before evictions took place, but the now-expired moratorium's order put the end of the redemption period sooner — on July 31.

And the moratorium ordered Thursday by the court in Detroit will provide breathing room through Aug. 15 for tenants in the city as operations of eviction diversion programs being offered by the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit take effect, McConico said.

Rent assistance available

Help with back rent is available for residents across Michigan and Detroit to keep people in their homes and pay landlords.

Local Housing Assessment and Resource agencies began accepting applications on Thursday from residents struggling to pay rent and their landlords through a program run by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. Payments could take between one and three weeks to be processed, with the first heading to landlords in early August, said Kelly Rose, MSHDA chief housing solutions officer.

There is $50 million in coronavirus relief funds available for rental assistance. Landlords can receive lump-sum payments in exchange for allowing tenants to remain in their homes, forgiving late fees and forfeiting up to 10% of the amount due. Tenants earning up to 100% of their area's median income are eligible for assistance. In Wayne County, that is $55,000 for an individual and $78,500 for a family of four.

Rose expects the funds to be available for a few months, though they do expire at the end of the year. MSHDA, however, hopes to keep the program running into 2021 with other resources.

The city of Detroit also has $11.5 million available in coronavirus relief funding for rent assistance for tenants making up to 80% of the average median income and are already in the eviction process. Residents at risk can call (866) 313-2520 or go to detroitevictionhelp.com.

Need for more

The eviction moratorium extension in Detroit, said Ted Phillips, executive director of the United Community Housing Coalition that represents tenants and land contact buyers in Detroit, is what tenants across the entire state should be given because the state and local assistance could take weeks to distribute.

"The extension means hundreds and hundreds of tenants that would likely have been evicted in seven to 30 days will not be evicted," Phillips said. "Hundreds and hundreds of properties that could be vacant for some period of time will not be vacant."

Detroit landlords for cases previously filed will need to fill out forms to provide updates on the cases and verification that the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act does not prevent the evictions for federally backed housing. Some tenants might have paid the debt or moved since the moratorium began.

The Detroit court will begin sending those forms on Monday. The landlords will have a week to return the forms via email, fax or mail, or else their case could face dismissal.

The court has a backlog of 900 cases filed before March 10 that will take priority over cases filed after the moratorium, McConico said. The court did not have an immediate count on how many new cases have been filed since March 10.

Notifications to tenants and landlords for the scheduling of the backlog's pre-trial hearings that will begin Aug. 17 will be mailed starting July 27. All initial hearings will be conducted via Zoom video conference, McConico said.

36th District Court Chief Judge William McConico said Thursday the court is extending a moratorium on evictions for the city of Detroit through Aug. 15.

"With the situation with how the virus is, that's what we have to do," he said, noting later if a person does not have access to a computer or smartphone, other accommodations may be made available.

The mailed notifications will include a flier that lists phone numbers where tenants can obtain legal aid and financial assistance. Up to 85% of defendants in Detroit do not have legal representation for tenant-landlord disputes, McConico said.

"All the stats across the country," he said, "state when there’s representation for the defendant, there are lower eviction rates because both counsels can work out pay raises, work out deals, or just a person knowing their rights."

Meanwhile, some Detroit renters are thankful they will be able to remain in their homes — for now.

“My landlord sent me a letter around June 26th stating that I was behind on my rent and that if I needed assistance, there were loans I could apply for to help me,” said Jeniffer Coleman, 42, who lives with her adult daughter and two grandchildren. An independent contract caterer, she says she applied for unemployment in March but has not received benefits.

“The letter was basically a nice way of telling me that if I didn’t apply for these loans, I would be evicted real soon," she said.

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Breana Noble

Staff Writer Christine MacDonald contributed.