The New Mexico Supreme Court issued two orders, one on March 24, 2020 (No. 20-8500-007) and one on March 26, 2020 (No. 20-8500-008), for a temporary moratorium on evictions for those who are unable to pay rent for the duration of the New Mexico COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.

Under the Court’s order, judges will halt the process that owners give to law enforcement to remove a tenant. Tenants will need to provide the court with evidence of their current inability to pay their rent. 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.

Starting Dec. 14, New Mexico courts are also expanding the free Online Dispute Resolution service to resolve debt and money due to lawsuits and landlord-tenant disputes. According to a New Mexico Court, this is an informal process that provides those actually involved in a court case with the opportunity to determine the best resolution for all involved. They also say it’s a chance to end a legal dispute in a way that minimizes time spent at court and saves money.

Online Dispute Resolution Service

Q: What is the Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)?

A: Starting Dec. 14, 2020, a new version of the Online Dispute Resolution be available for resolving debt and money due to lawsuits and landlord-tenant disputes, such as when a residential or commercial property owner seeks to recover unpaid rent. Cases seeking evictions will continue to be handled in court, not through ODR.

Q: What are the new features of the Online Dispute Resolution service?

A: New features of the Online Dispute Resolution service include:

  • Plaintiffs, regardless of whether they have an attorney, will be required to participate. Participation previously was voluntary and the Judiciary found that many plaintiff attorneys declined to use the online service.
  • Enhanced chat functions allow the parties to text and chat in real-time with mediators and each other, increasing the opportunities for resolution of the lawsuit
  • Either side in a case – a defendant, who is the person sued, as well as the plaintiff bringing the lawsuit – can make an initial proposal to reach an agreement through the ODR platform. Previously, only the plaintiff could start online negotiations by making the initial settlement offer.
  • Cases are automatically sent to ODR after defendants receive a formal notice they have been sued —the legal process of being “served” with the lawsuit. In the past, cases were eligible for ODR only after the defendant filed a response or “answer” to the lawsuit. A large portion of those sued over debts traditionally fail to respond to the lawsuit, which results in a default judgment against them and allows the plaintiff to seek a court order for employers to withhold a person’s wages for payment of the debt.

Q: What is the cost to participate in the Online Dispute Resolution service?

A: It is a free service paid for by the New Mexico Judiciary.

Q: What happens if no agreement is reached in the Online Dispute Resolution service?

A: If no agreement is reached after 30 days through Online Dispute Resolution, a case will move forward in court.

Q: What if I don’t have an email account for the Online Dispute Resolution?

A: An email account is required for Online Dispute Resolution.

Q: How do I prepare for Online Dispute Resolution?

A: Be prepared to answer questions about what you could offer to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. According to New Mexico Courts website, parties generally find that dispute resolution is more useful when they are prepared and have a plan. Your mediation plan should identify your goals, the other party’s goals and how you might be able to propose a solution that will result in an agreement.

Q: What if I don’t like the offer?

A: It is up to you if you choose to accept or reject the offer. You also have the option to send a counter offer.

Q: What if I don’t understand something during the ODR process?

A: If you don’t understand something, you can ask a mediator for help. A mediator is a trained professional that can help you and the other party understand the issue to find a solution that works for both of you. Asking a mediator for help does not cost you or the other party anything.

General Information about Evictions During COVID-19

Q: What has the Supreme Court done to address evictions in light of the COVID-19 public health emergency?

A: The Supreme Court issued two orders, one on March 24, 2020 (No. 20-8500-007) and one on March 26, 2020 (No. 20-8500-008), which address eviction for non-payment of rent cases. These orders require judges to stay (put a hold on) evictions in cases where the tenant has shown the court that they are unable to pay rent.

Q: What do I need to do as a tenant if I can’t pay rent due to the pandemic?

A: If a landlord begins an eviction proceeding, the renter will receive a summons that notifies them of the lawsuit and explains that they can participate in a hearing before a judge.

To stop an eviction, renters must participate in the hearing and provide the judge with evidence of their current inability to pay their rent.

Q: Do tenants still have to go to court?

A: Yes, if a landlord has filed a court case claiming a tenant has not paid rent, the tenant must still prove that they are unable to pay rent at the court hearing before an eviction can be stayed.

Q: How can court hearings happen safely with COVID-19 restrictions?

A: Courts are holding hearings by telephone and video. Information about how to appear by phone or video will be given on hearing notices. If a person is not able to appear by telephone or video, they should let the court where their case is happening know as soon as possible.

Q: Do these orders stop evictions for things other than not paying rent?

A: No, evictions can still happen for other reasons, such as a tenant violating the lease agreement in a way that is not about paying rent, a tenant committing a crime on the property, and tenants who do not move out once their lease is up.

Q: Do these orders mean that a person can never be evicted or will never have to pay back rent?

A: No, the Supreme Court orders only put a hold on evictions and payment of back rent until the COVID-19 emergency is over.

Q: Do these orders apply to mobile home park evictions?

A: Yes. Judges must also stay (stop) orders removing a mobile home from a mobile home park or foreclosing on a mobile home. The tenant in these cases must also prove that they are unable to pay rent.

Q: I want to appeal a writ of restitution (eviction order) that was stayed. When do I have to do this by?

A: If a writ of restitution is stayed, the timelines for the appeal are also stayed.

Q: Is there an effective date for evictions being stayed?

A: Yes, these orders only apply to writs of restitution (a court order about eviction) issued on or after March 24, 2020 and will last as long as the Public Emergency Order is in effect.

Q: What happens to the stayed writs of restitution once the COVID-19 emergency is over?

A: This will be up to individual courts to decide. Some courts are developing mediation programs to help tenants and landlords address ways in which a tenant might be able to stay in the property once the public health emergency is over. You should contact the individual court in which a case is filed for more guidance.

Q: Who can I contact for help?

If you would like assistance with your eviction proceeding please contact: New Mexico Legal Aid – 1-833-LGL-HELP (1-833-545-4357).

Q: How does the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court Landlord-Tenant Settlement Program work?

A: A trained facilitator works with landlords and tenants to try to develop a business agreement beneficial to both sides. If the parties show up to court and if the tenant can show an inability to pay, then the eviction will be stayed and the tenant will not be evicted from the property. A judgement will be entered against the tenant saying the owe the amount.

Q: How can I participate in the mediation program?

A: People wishing to participate in the Landlord-Tenant Settlement Program should contact the Metro Court’s Mediation Division at (505) 841-8167.

Q: Is the Landlord-Tenant Settlement Program free?

A: Yes. The service is free, and parties in a case will work with a volunteer settlement facilitator
specially trained in housing matters.

For more information about COVID-19 updates and the courts, please visit the NM Courts website.