A sign outside Johnson's Sporting Goods on outer Congress Street in Portland on Sunday displays an encouraging message amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

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Gov. Janet Mills plans to issue an executive order to ban some evictions as the state grapples with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Mills offered few specifics during the Maine Center for Disease Control and Protection briefing on Tuesday, but said that her administration would be “taking a targeted approach” to prevent evictions during the coronavirus pandemic. The order will be issued within days.

“This is not the right time for any landlords to be evicting anybody,” she said.

[Our COVID-19 tracker contains the most recent information on Maine cases by county]

Mills’ promise follows dozens of Portland business owners seeking formal rent relief from the city and others expressing concerns about the chaos that could be caused by widespread evictions. The businesses have signed onto a letter to the Portland City Council seeking a rent freeze as the coronavirus puts them in a difficult situation: Their businesses are closed, but they must pay rent unless they get reprieves from landlords. The Maine Small Business Coalition called on Mills “to issue an executive order banning evictions and foreclosure and forgiving rents and mortgages during this unprecedented crisis” on March 26.

Mills indicated that she would be taking a hard line against evictions.

“Whether it’s a shop owner on Exchange Street, or an apartment dweller on Munjoy Hill, or in Kennedy Park or elsewhere anywhere in the State of Maine, this is not the right time for any landlords to be evicting anybody,” Mills said. “We are looking at a carefully targeted executive order that will stop writs of possession from taking place, from being issued in residential cases and in commercial cases as well.”

[Portland businesses call for rent freeze after some landlords refuse to budge]

The executive order is intended to be limited strictly to cases of evictions caused by the pandemic, including business shutdowns and layoffs. Personal safety issues, violations of law “or other legitimate reasons” that force evictions “are a different issue,” Mills said.

“We can’t forgive the rent that’s due. We can’t say that you don’t owe the rent,” Mills said.

A short-term funding source to aid residential rent payments is also coming, Mills said.

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