The New Mexico Supreme Court has halted evictions based on non-payment of rent under the Uniform Owner-Resident Relations Act for tenants who can establish that they are unable to pay during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
“New Mexicans are struggling financially as workplaces close because of the public health emergency,” said Chief Justice Judith K. Nakamura. “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.”
Under the Court’s order, judges will stop executing writs of restitution issued for non-payment of rent in accordance with NMSA 1978, section 47-8-46(A) if the judge presiding in the case is “satisfied that the resident has demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence a current inability to pay the monthly rent established by the rental agreement.” Per a prior Court order, judges must conduct audio and video teleconferencing for civil proceedings, except when an emergency requires in-person appearances.
The Court’s order is effective for all writs of restitution issued on or after March 24, 2020, the same date as the Court’s order, and “remains in effect until amended or withdrawn by future order of the Court.”
While the Court’s order is surely aimed to protect individuals working in those industries hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic or otherwise in need because of pandemic-related economic hardships, there will also be those who seek to take advantage. Yet, limitations on discovery and the ability to present evidence during telephonic evidentiary hearings is likely to make things difficult for landlords who seek to put tenants to their proper burden.
The order is the latest measure imposed on operations of New Mexico state courts designed to protect public safety and health. Other measures provide New Mexicans additional time to pay fines and fees, require the use of audio and video teleconferencing for court proceedings that need to continue, and allow self-represented litigants to submit case filings to local courts by email and fax to help them avoid courthouse visits.