A bill that would protect tenants from being evicted without first having the opportunity to go through mediation appeared Tuesday night to be headed for passage by the state House and Senate this week.

Legislators were still considering L.D. 1508 late Tuesday, a day after the Maine Senate initially approved “An Act to Prevent Homelessness by Establishing an Eviction Mediation Program.”

The Maine Senate, in a preliminary vote, passed an amended version of the bill Monday by a margin of 21-14. The House voted 82-61 in support of the bill Tuesday. The bill is up for final Senate and House votes Wednesday.

L.D. 1508, sponsored by Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, would establish a program to provide mediation services to tenants facing eviction. If either a tenant or landlord requested mediation, a court would have the authority to force both parties to do so. The bill would ensure that renters have access to legal assistance and are aware of legal protections available under Maine law.

The amended version no longer contains a provision that directs MaineHousing to devote a total of $1.3 million each fiscal year to hire legal services for tenants subject to eviction proceedings, and to offset the costs of implementing the mediation process.

That funding loss would be offset by a new partnership reached this week between Pine Tree Legal Assistance and MaineHousing, which would provide legal assistance, and possibly rental assistance, to tenants who need it, according to Greg Payne, director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition of Portland.

MaineHousing would use federal Emergency Rental Assistance funds to cover costs.

“The two organizations also plan to continue to work with cultural brokers to ensure that Maine’s communities of color – who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and face eviction at a higher rate – have access to resources and assistance in their language of choice,” Payne said. Payne said he believes the federal eviction moratorium is unlikely to be extended beyond its June 30 expiration date.

“As rent relief applications continue to be backlogged, we are very concerned that there could be a significant rise in evictions in Maine in the coming months,” Payne said.

Carney issued a statement praising Pine Tree and MaineHousing for agreeing to the partnership in support of her bill.

“Eviction often has long-term and devastating consequences for Maine families with low income. When a family loses a home due to eviction, the family typically loses furniture, clothing and toys. Indeed most of the family’s possessions are lost because there is no place to put them,” Carney said in a statement. “And once a judgement of eviction is entered, it appears on a tenant’s rental history report and limits or eliminates their options for renting a safe and secure home in the future.”

House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, co-sponsored L.D. 1508.

“Affordable housing is not just an issue in southern Maine or northern Maine. This is an issue in every kind of community in our state, and it affects the dignity of both older Mainers and the stability of young working families,” Fecteau said. “As our state seeks solutions for the affordable housing crisis, this partnership between Maine Housing and Pine Tree Legal is a great step forward.”

Nan Heald, executive director of Pine Tree Legal, said data collected by the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition shows that tenants are less likely to have legal representation than landlords, and that lack of legal representation has a negative impact on a tenants’ ability to avoid eviction and homelessness.

“By increasing legal representation for tenants, we will level the playing field and ensure that state and federal laws are upheld,” Heald said.

The Legislature was deliberating a number of bills Tuesday night and had not acted on L.D. 1508, but Payne said he remains confident that it will be enacted this week.


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