March 24, 2020

State Supreme Court orders eviction moratorium during coronavirus emergency

Andy Lyman

The New Mexico Supreme Court

The New Mexico Supreme Court ordered a temporary moratorium on evictions for those who are unable to pay rent during the public health emergency over the spread of COVID-19.

A number of cities and states across the country have put such moratoriums into place over the past few weeks.

“New Mexicans are struggling financially as workplaces close because of the public health emergency,” Chief Justice Judith K. Nakamura said in a statement while announcing the order. “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.”

The court says that the order is another precautionary measure to protect public health.

In cases where the tenant can prove inability to pay, judges are ordered to stay the execution of writs of restitution property owners obtain from courts and give to law enforcement to force the removal of a tenant.

The City of Albuquerque had previously stopped evictions on all city-owned property, including low-income public housing for those who were unable to pay rent, while the City of Santa Fe froze residential and commercial eviction indefinitely.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller sent a letter to the state Supreme Court last week asking for them to impose the moratorium.

Many utilities have also announced they would institute a moratorium on shut-offs.

The order from the state’s high court came a day after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a stay-at-home order, similar to a shelter-in-place order in other states, and said all non-essential businesses and nonprofits would need to cease in-person operations during the public health emergency.

Places like restaurants and bars have been closed to in-person dining, while “basic” retail stores were ordered shuttered.

This is an attempt to slow the spread of the disease, caused by a coronavirus, in the state.

But because of this, many employers have been forced to lay off most or all of their staff; unemployment claims spiked last week to a level even higher than during the Great Recession more than a decade ago.

As of Monday, 83 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the state and about 43,500 nationwide as of Tuesday morning, according to the New York Times.

The state’s courts have put into place increasingly stricter restrictions on court procedures. On Monday, the New Mexico Supreme Court issued an order limiting the number of people allowed in a courtroom to 15 and mandated that all court proceedings possible be conducted over video conference.

Update: Added information about Tim Keller writing to the state Supreme Court last week.