Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
The New Mexico Supreme Court has ordered a temporary halt on most evictions in the state during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The order was issued Tuesday – a week and a half after advocates, attorneys, the mayor of Albuquerque and others began sending letters to the state’s highest court urging it to suspend eviction trials. However, it applies only to evictions due to non-payment of rent, although the missed rent doesn’t have to be a direct consequence of the coronavirus and associated closures, according to a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Individual judges will still hear and decide a case – conducted remotely – but they will not issue an eviction order.
“New Mexicans are struggling financially as workplaces close because of the public health emergency,” Chief Justice Judith Nakamura explained in a news release. “The Court’s order will provide temporary relief for families and individuals facing the possibility of losing their housing at a time when the governor and public health officials have ordered New Mexicans to remain at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Camille Baca, a spokeswoman for Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court, said landlord-tenant cases will continue to be heard, but they will be via telephone or video conference.
“In cases of non-payment of rent, the Court will stop all evictions so long as tenants show up to court (via phone or video) and can provide proof of their inability to pay,” Baca wrote in a statement. “If tenants don’t phone or video in for the restitution hearings or provide proof, the Court can still evict.”
Property managers and associations reached by the Journal Tuesday said they were still trying to figure out exactly what the order will mean for their businesses, while advocates say it doesn’t go far enough to stop evictions during the crisis.
Alan LaSeck, executive director of the Apartment Association of New Mexico, said the group works with thousands of households and employees.
“We are very sensitive to the needs of companies and residents during the COVID-19 crisis,” LaSeck wrote in a statement. “We support our local, state and national governments as they work diligently to address this unprecedented crisis.”
Jack Corder, president of the Albuquerque chapter of the National Association of Residential Property Managers, said each property manager and owner is different, but most are grappling themselves with how to adjust to the new reality.
“Some look to that rent to make their mortgage payments, some of them have money set aside so they can go 30 to 60 days without having any rent come in,” Corder said. “I’m sure most property owners would not want to have a good tenant evicted unnecessarily.”
He pointed out that property managers are paid when tenants pay rent, and the public health crisis has already resulted in reduced hours for management staff in the area.
“I’m sure we will see some (property management companies) close because, with no money coming in, they can’t afford to stay open,” Corder said. “I’m sure we’ll see owners where if they can’t make the mortgage payments, the houses may go into foreclosure.”
However, New Mexico Legal Aid, an organization that provides free legal assistance in civil proceedings and had been advocating for a complete stay of evictions during the health crisis, said the order does not go far enough to keep tenants safe and in homes.
“We have a problem with people who are poor or elderly or have cognitive disabilities, or traumatic brain injuries being asked to appear at these hearings,” said Thomas Prettyman, the managing attorney for NM Legal Aid. “They are not going to be able to appear by Google hangouts.”