SANTA FE – The New Mexico Supreme Court will phase in an Eviction Prevention and Diversion Program statewide starting in April, according to a press release.

In stages, it will lift a moratorium on evictions of people unable to pay their rent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program becomes effective in the 13th Judicial District, which encompasses Sandoval County, on July 1 under a court order issued Wednesday, according to the release.

The program helps tenants access money available through the state Department of Finance and Administration for unpaid rent and utilities, temporary housing at a motel or hotel, and the initial costs of moving into new permanent housing. The court-based program also provides trained facilitators to assist landlords and tenants in negotiating a possible settlement of rental disputes.

“People facing the possible loss of housing will receive help in submitting applications for emergency rental assistance, and landlords have an opportunity to be fairly compensated,” said Chief Justice Michael Vigil.

The court launched the program in February as a pilot in the Ninth Judicial District of Curry and Roosevelt counties, and it will remain in operation there.

When the pandemic caused job losses and other economic hardships, the court paused evictions in March 2020 for people who provided a judge with sufficient evidence of their inability to pay rent.

“At this point in the pandemic, the court believes it is prudent to gradually remove the eviction moratorium to avoid a sudden spike in evictions across the state,” Vigil said.

When tenants are notified about the filing of an eviction in court, they will receive information about available legal services and the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). At the start of an eviction hearing, judges will advise tenants and landlords about the rental assistance and ask the parties if they’re willing to participate in the Eviction Prevention and Diversion program.

Eviction cases will be put on hold for at least 30 days if both parties agree to participate, and a court-appointed facilitator will help negotiate a possible settlement. The case will move forward and judges can an issue an eviction order if the parties don’t reach a settlement or decline to participate in the program.

Wednesday’s Supreme Court order also establishes new procedures for landlords and property managers who obtained a judgment against a renter or an eviction order while the eviction moratorium was in place. They must return to court and file a new form requesting a post-judgment eviction order to have their case move forward.

Under the state’s rental assistance program, property managers and landlords with several properties may be eligible for bulk payments for back rent covering multiple tenants. The program offers a range of financial assistance to renters, including payments for up to 12 months of back rent and three months of future rent.

About $109 million in rental and utility assistance has been granted so far, providing each renter an average of $4,000 for rent and $750 for utilities.