After falling to an unprecedented low during the pandemic, eviction numbers are creeping back toward 2019 rates in Maryland, according to data from the Maryland Judiciary and the Baltimore City Sheriff’s Office.

Over the course of nearly three years, thousands of evictions were prevented across Maryland by a combination of federal and local eviction moratoriums put in place during the pandemic, federal rental assistance funds, and court backlogs.

With eviction bans having long expired, rental assistance running low, courts back up and running at full speed, and rents sky-high, 2022 saw a rapid uptick in evictions statewide — especially in the summer.

Between August and September 2022, 13 jurisdictions, including Baltimore, recorded an eviction tally in at least one month that exceeded the number of evictions for that month in 2019, the last year before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared.

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There remain minimal guardrails to protect against a continued return to a pre-pandemic “normal” that advocates, officials and tenants across the state have long argued shouldn’t be treated as normal at all. In the last six months of 2019, 10,486 people were evicted in Maryland, including 2,920 in Baltimore City.

The latest numbers “just confirm what we’ve been seeing on the ground,” said Matt Hill, an attorney with the Public Justice Center who represents tenants facing eviction. “Courts are packed and people are desperate to hold onto their homes and experiencing continuing instability in the economy from the pandemic and skyrocketing rent increases.”

In the city of Baltimore, evictions this past September and November surpassed the 2019 tallies in those months, according to data provided by the Baltimore City Sheriff’s Office. The number was far lower in December 2022 because many evictions were postponed that month as sheriff’s deputies were retrained on new eviction policies implemented by newly installed Baltimore Sheriff Sam Cogen. The Democrat ran on a platform to “humanize” the city’s eviction process by providing tenants with adequate notice of court and removal dates and confirming that a building was licensed as a rental property before enforcing an eviction there, among other changes.

Aaron Greenfield, director of government affairs for the Maryland Multi-Housing Association, argued that evictions remained significantly below 2019 numbers for much of 2022.

“We’ll judge the data objectively, but I’m not sure that there’s a story here that evictions are increasing. In fact, the data suggests just the opposite,” said Greenfield. “Should there be an increase in evictions, then I think we all need to sit down and figure that out, but that’s not what the data suggests to me.”

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Eviction numbers overall statewide still lag behind 2019 numbers, but quarterly counts have tripled since 2020: 4,107 people were evicted during the summer of 2022, 30% less than for that period in 2019, but about three times more than in the same three-month period in 2020 and about double the amount of summer 2021.

“We are starting to get concerned that while the case filings remain low, the number of evictions is approaching pre-pandemic levels,” Reena Shah, executive director for Maryland Access to Justice Commission, wrote in an email. “That trend is likely to continue, especially as we anticipate that all rental assistance funding will be depleted in a couple of months and people’s ability to access rental assistance to pay the rent and keep themselves housed will be threatened.”

Evictions have increased rapidly in Baltimore City, where rates once closely mirrored Baltimore County’s. In August and September, about eight people were evicted each month for every 10,000 residents. The statewide rate was a little more than two people, and Baltimore County’s was around four.

Housing groups call on legislators to protect tenants

As state legislators enter the second week of the Maryland General Assembly session, housing groups are calling on them to put in place measures to keep those numbers from rising even higher.

Outside the State House on Thursday, tenants and advocates gathered to call on lawmakers to vote in favor of a handful of bills that would protect renters from eviction. One bill to be introduced would enable localities to pass laws requiring landlords to have just cause not to renew a lease. Another would stop landlords who don’t have an operating license from evicting tenants in jurisdictions that have a licensing law.

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And the group called on Gov.-elect Wes Moore to invest $175 million in the fiscal year 2024 budget to sustain emergency rental assistance as federal funds run out. In December, a coalition of dozens of advocacy groups and local officials — including Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, and the county executives of Anne Arundel, Howard, Montgomery and Baltimore counties — made the request in a letter to outgoing Gov. Larry Hogan. As emergency rental assistance funds have dried up in recent months, many jurisdictions across the state have paused intake or limited assistance only to tenants facing imminent eviction.

The most recent eviction numbers show that while they’ve increased, filings remain below pre-pandemic rates, reflecting both the availability of rental assistance and a reform adopted statewide in 2021 that requires landlords to provide tenants with 10 days’ notice before they file for an eviction with the courts.

Filings were higher throughout 2022 for tenant-holding-over cases — which a landlord can file when a tenant stays in their unit beyond the terms of their lease — than in 2019.

The filing rate for these cases has steadily increased since 2020, when failure-to-pay rent cases were restricted by federal and state eviction moratoriums. By the time the courts began processing failure-to-pay cases again, some landlords realized that pursuing a tenant-holding-over case was a quicker legal process. In September, there were 786 of these cases filed in Baltimore city.

Advocates are hopeful that a statewide “access to counsel” provision will help more renters gain legal representation to fight evictions. While the law passed and took effect in 2021, funding was not released until this past summer.

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General Assembly reporter Callan Tansill-Suddath contributed reporting to this article.