It wasn’t the news that Jean Locey wanted to hear, especially as she recovers from abdominal surgery while also being treated for stage 4 cancer.

The 62-year-old Portland resident received a notice in the mail, saying her landlord was not renewing the lease for the apartment she has lived in for nearly three years. Now, she’s anxious about trying to find a new apartment at a time when authorities are telling everyone to stay home.

“You are hereby notified that your tenancy will not be renewed at this time,” the March 19 notice reads. “You will be expected to vacate the premises on or before June 30, 2020. In the event you do not vacate the premises by said date, legal action may be taken in which you may be held liable for court costs and attorneys fees.”

Maine’s courts stopped hearing new eviction cases March 13 because of the coronavirus crisis, but they are still issuing writs of possession, the legal documents that let landlords kick out tenants, from cases heard before that date. In other situations, landlords are informing tenants their leases will not be renewed, while some rental homes are being put up for sale.

Given her age, medical conditions and compromised immunity, Locey is among the most at-risk for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

“I sit and I cry,” an emotional Locey said in a phone interview. She said other tenants are also being forced to leave so the landlord can renovate the units.

The 70-unit Bayview Court is owned by Bayview Court LCC, according to the city’s tax and rental registry. The company is controlled by Lloyd Lathrop III, according to corporate filings. Efforts to reach Lathrop through his registering agent and property manager, Dirigo Management Co., were unsuccessful.

Contacted by the Press Herald, attorney Paul Driscoll, who represents the landlord, said the company was changing course. The 16 affected households, six of which were notified this month, will be offered either a 60-day lease at the current rent or a yearlong lease with a “modest” rent increase to cover renovation costs, he said.

“We’re not interested in putting people out on the street in a public health crisis,” Driscoll said. “The plan is to alert all of them, and I’m going to ask the property manager to give them that option.”

A growing number of cities across the country, including San Francisco, New York and Boston, have placed moratoriums on all or some evictions in response to the coronavirus, which has caused unprecedented job losses.

So far, state and local officials here have resisted more decisive action to prevent evictions, pointing to the fact that Maine’s court system stopped taking up new eviction cases March 13.

“For evictions related to the nonpayment of rent that is related to the COVID-19 virus, I will actively discourage evictions from going forward,” Gov. Janet Mills said Tuesday at a news briefing where she ordered nonessential businesses to close and advised people to stay home. “There may be a number of other kinds of evictions for other reasons where people are trying to save their property.”

The federal government is offering flexibility to landlords who have federally backed mortgages. According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, property owners who are struggling to repay loans through Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks because of the coronavirus won’t incur late fees, have delinquencies reported to the credit bureaus or face legal action such as foreclosures.

Maine courts may not be taking up new eviction cases, but landlords are still being issued writs of possession, court orders that allow landlords to force out tenants from previous eviction cases. A landlord must wait at least seven days after an eviction judgment to receive a writ of possession, which is delivered by the local sheriff and enforced by local police. Other residents are not having their leases renewed or are watching their rental homes get put on the market.

Such actions run counter the advice of public health officials and elected leaders who are telling everyone to stay home to slow the spread of coronavirus. It’s adding stress to those who are marginally housed during an already anxious time.

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder issued a proclamation Monday asking landlords to avoid evicting tenants or raising rents for 90 days, but it is not a requirement. That was before City Manager Jon Jennings issued a shelter-at-home order for Portland residents, since Cumberland County has more than 61 percent of the COVID-19 cases statewide.

“We’re getting a lot of folks reaching out to us asking what protections there are for tenants,” Snyder told reporters. “As a city we’re urging no evictions. They’re not happening in the courts anyway. But no evictions for 90 days. No rent increases for 90 days. Basically, (creating) an environment where people can stay in their homes and we can weather this crisis together.”

Representatives from Port Property Management, one of Portland’s largest landlords, said the company has not requested a writ since Jan. 29 and gave two residents 30-day notices on March 12 for non-COVID-19 related circumstances.

Jennifer Munroe, Port Property’s chief operating officer, said in a statement that the company is working with all of its tenants.

“Port Property Management completely understands that this is a stressful time for everyone, with the possible health, financial, employment, and other implications that may become a reality as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak,” she said. “As we have always done, we are committed to working with all residents on a case-by-case basis.”

Katie McGovern, an attorney at Pine Tree Legal, which provides assistance to low-income Mainers, said the nonprofit has taken on several eviction cases throughout the state in the past few weeks. She’s also worried about illegal evictions or “lockouts” while the courts are closed.

Bangor resident John Morrell, 45, said he turned to Pine Tree Legal after being illegally evicted from a home in which he has lived for the last seven years. Morrell said he returned home after getting a soda on March 18 and found himself locked out.

“(The landlord) thinks I have (COVID-19) already, which I don’t,” Morrell said. “This is just something she’s making up to get me out of the house.”

Morrell said a judge ordered the landlord to let him back in during a conference call Wednesday, but she still refuses. He’s not sure what to do next. For now, he’s staying with a friend.

“It’s horrible. It makes me feel like I have no hope whatsoever,” he said. “Thank god my friend let me stay here. If it wasn’t for her, I would be sleeping on the street right now.”

Pittston resident Michael Walter, 41, and his partner are also preparing to have their lives upended, despite having a great relationship with their landlord.

Walter said his landlord informed them Sunday the house was going to be listed for sale, but assured them no showings would be scheduled for six weeks. Then they were told by the real estate agent that showings would commence April 8 – the day that the state order to stay home is scheduled to expire.

“I can’t believe our landlord would put the sale of a house over the welfare of their tenants right now,” he said. “How can you quarantine if you don’t have a house?”

It’s unclear how many people are being displaced, whether by lack of a lease renewal or through writs of possession. A court official did not respond to questions about how many writs have been issued since the courts closed.

However, the sheriff’s office said six writs of possession have been issued and five have been served in Cumberland County since March 13, including two in Portland and one each in South Portland, Westbrook, Gorham and Scarborough.

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said deputies must serve writs that are issued by the courts, but landlords do have discretion about whether they request one from the court. He urged them to be flexible and acknowledged that many are trying to be accommodating.

“I believe that the right thing to do is not put anyone out on the street until we are through these uncertain times,” Joyce said. “It seems a bit hypocritical to make people homeless when our community is trying to get people to quarantine in place or in their home.”

York County Sheriff William King said his department has issued two writs since March 13.

Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson said Tuesday that he had one writ but was waiting for guidance from the courts about whether to serve it. By Wednesday the sheriff was told to serve the writ, which stemmed from an eviction case heard in early February.

Meanwhile, residents like Locey are left to wait and worry. The fact that she secured a 30-day extension is of little solace.

Locey said she called Deering Pavilion, a senior housing complex, and was told that there was a two-year wait for an apartment.

“I need to be in a safe environment that’s close to my hospital,” she said. “I thought I was in a safe environment.”

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