Whitmer extends eviction ban, inmate protections amid COVID-19

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday extended an eviction moratorium as well as protections for vulnerable populations in county jails, local lockups and juvenile detention centers as the state works to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Organizer Joe McGuire walks and holds a sign while people drive their vehicles around Cadillac Place as part of a caravan protest organized by Detroit Eviction Defense in Detroit on May 13, 2020. The group calls for extending the eviction ban until at least 60 days have passed after the end of the current state of emergency.

“By extending the protection against eviction for non-payment we can ensure that COVID-19-infected individuals and vulnerable populations can isolate in the safety of their homes while continuing to protect incarcerated persons in our prisons, jails and juvenile detention centers,” the governor said in a statement. “These orders will ensure that we can continue to flatten the curve, avoid a second wave of infection and protect the heroes serving on the front lines of this crisis.”

Whitmer signed the two executive orders extending the measures on Thursday night.

She originally suspended evictions on March 20 and extended the order in April, saying keeping residents at home helped them focus on stopping the spread of COVID-19.

Another extension issued last month kept the moratorium until Thursday. Now, it lasts through 11:59 p.m. June 30.

Tenants and mobile home owners must still must pay rent and honor contracts, but they cannot be evicted unless posing "a substantial risk to another person or an imminent and severe risk to property," according to the order.

Earlier this week, housing rights activists sought an eviction ban until 60 days or more have passed after the Whitmer's state of emergency ends.

The protest came the same day the Michigan Supreme Court issued an administrative order outlining how trial courts statewide will resume processing landlord/tenant cases, including evictions.

Whitmer's latest order "also relieves courts from certain statutory restrictions so they can stay eviction-related proceedings until after the COVID-19 emergency has passed," her office said Thursday night.

The executive order involving inmates is effective through July 9. 

It also temporarily suspends transfers into and from Michigan Department of Corrections facilities unless jails adopt certain risk-reduction protocols.

That includes screening all staff, inmates and visitors, cleaning frequently and ensuring access to personal hygiene products, according to the order.

"Many counties — including Wayne, Oakland, Ingham and Macomb — already have resumed transfers, subject to ongoing review," Whitmer's office said. "The order also allows local officials more flexibility in releasing vulnerable populations who do not pose a threat to public safety."

Extending the protections is needed "as it remains reasonable and necessary to suppress the spread of COVID-19 and protect the public health and safety of this state and its residents," the order stated.

The developments came the same day Michigan reported 30 deaths due to the new coronavirus, including three probable ones, bringing the state's death toll to 5,985. 

The state Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday also confirmed 218 new COVID cases and 49 additional probable cases, for a cumulative total of 65,449 cases since the virus was first detected in Michigan in early March. 

Michigan has averaged 179 new cases a day during the last week, compared with 318 new cases a day for the previous seven-day period, according to state data. New cases and hospitalizations for COVID have been gradually declining for weeks.