Eviction Clock Now Has Hands

New Mexico Supreme Court makes potential crisis real for Santa Fe, announcing moratorium on evictions for non-payment ending in June

Santa Fe County residents behind on rent have about two and a half months before landlords will get the green light to evict them, potentially leaving thousands of renters in the city of Santa Fe at risk of court proceedings or, worse, losing their homes.

The exact number of imperiled renters in Santa Fe County and, indeed, statewide, is unknown.

The New Mexico Supreme Court is set to lift the two-year moratorium on evictions for non-payment and phase in a voluntary court program, aimed at keeping renters in their homes while getting landlords paid, throughout the state in the coming months.

Renters have shared concerns about eviction with SFR throughout the pandemic, knowing the moratorium was never meant to be permanent, and the state’s highest court formally set the clock in motion this week.

The moratorium will phase out in the First Judicial District—which includes Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Rio Arriba counties—on June 1, the Administrative Office of the Courts announced Wednesday.

Officials piloted the alternative court program replacing the moratorium in Curry and Roosevelt counties last month. The Supreme Court will next lift the eviction ban in four judicial districts, including one that contains Bernalillo County, on April 1.

When eviction hearings begin, judges are supposed to inform renters and landlords about federally funded emergency rent assistance.

Tens of millions of dollars are available but that funding has been challenging to access, in part because the application process is complicated, Tesuque resident Rebeca Kueber told SFR for a story published in this week’s print edition.

Kueber, who volunteers with local organization Chainbreaker Collective, lived in Santa Fe for many years before the city became unaffordable. She’s been unemployed off and on since the pandemic began in March 2020 and is behind on rent.

Chainbreaker and other community groups, along with city officials, are rushing to slow the expected flood of evictions. City councilors last week approved $1 million for rent assistance, with distribution expected to start in late April or early May.

If both renters and landlords choose to participate in the new court program, judges will pause their case for at least 30 days and appoint facilitators. The Supreme Court’s administrative arm has a contract with a law firm in Albuquerque to provide facilitation to program participants. That firm has five people who can act as facilitators. The court expects to add more facilitators, “but we are unsure about the final number because it is uncertain how many facilitators will be requested” as the program expands, spokesman Barry Massey writes in an email to SFR.

Facilitators receive $250 per session, Massey says. Funding for the court program, including compensation for facilitators, comes from the federal emergency rent assistance program through a partnership with the court and the state Department of Finance and Administration.

Judges will dismiss cases if program participants reach settlements. But if landlords or renters opt out of the program, evictions will proceed.

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