Legal advocacy group aims to close loophole in state eviction moratorium | KOB 4

Legal advocacy group aims to close loophole in state eviction moratorium

Ryan Laughlin
Updated: December 01, 2020 06:21 PM
Created: December 01, 2020 05:19 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A legal advocacy group is working to close a loophole that allows landlords to evict tenants despite the State Supreme Court’s moratorium on evictions. 

“That's a public health issue,” said Tom Prettyman, with New Mexico Legal Aid. 

Prettyman, who is the managing attorney for the Albuquerque Office for New Mexico Legal Aid, said the state Supreme Court’s decision to pause evictions was meant to help everyone. 

"Because when you put people out on the street, or you force them to move into shelters, or you force them to double up with relatives, or they wind up in the hospital—you're going to increase community spread of COVID,” he said. 

The civil legal advocacy group for low-income New Mexicans said there’s a problem with the current eviction moratorium. 

"There's a loophole there, and the loophole is, at the end of lease, in New Mexico, during normal times, either the tenant or the landlord can say, ‘I don't want to rent anymore,’” Prettyman said. 

"These tenants who have been in their units and might not be able to pay rent, their leases are ending— probably very soon, if they haven't already,” he added.

Prettyman said another problem arises when some of these cases go to metro court. 

"Right now, there are some judges who are actually telling some landlords, ‘Yeah, I can't evict them, your tenant, for non-payment, but, you know, if you give them that 30-day written notice and want to end the lease, come back to me. I'll evict them,’” he said.

Prettyman said the issue is that judges shouldn’t be giving legal advice to landlords since they’re supposed to remain neutral. 

In a typical year in Bernalillo County, Prettyman said they see around 11,000 eviction hearings go to court. Now, they’re asking for some changes to the moratorium. 

"We're preparing a letter to send to the New Mexican Supreme Court to amend their eviction stay to include these end of lease evictions,” he said. 

A metro court spokesperson sent KOB 4 the following statement about Prettyman’s claims:

"The Judges of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court are committed to protecting the rights and liberties of the people of New Mexico, resolving legal disputes fairly, and ensuring equal access to justice.  Court hearings are open to the public, and information to participate/observe remotely can be found on the homepage of the court’s website or by calling the court.

Metro Court offers a free mediation program for people involved in active landlord-tenant cases.  A trained facilitator works with landlords and tenants to try to develop a business agreement beneficial to both sides.  People wishing to participate in the Landlord-Tenant Settlement Program should contact the court's Mediation Division at: (505) 841-8167."

The New Mexico Supreme Court also sent the following statement:

"The Supreme Court will give due consideration to any letter it receives from New Mexico Legal Aid concerning evictions. The Court earlier this year paused evictions for inability to pay rent to assist New Mexicans at risk of losing their housing at a time when public health officials advise people to stay at home to help control the spread of COVID-19."

People who are in need of legal/eviction assistance can reach out to New Mexico Legal Aid by calling  1-(833)-545-4357 Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, click here.  

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