A renter in Hennepin County whose landlord filed to evict them this month likely won't learn whether they will be kicked out of their home until the middle of winter because of a massive court backlog.

What used to be about a 20-day process skyrocketed this summer amid a huge increase in eviction filings when the pandemic-related eviction moratorium lifted.

"In normal times, evictions never run this slow. It's just the sheer volume. This has been the busiest couple months on record," said Rachael Sterling, housing attorney and communications coordinator for HOME Line, a tenants' rights nonprofit.

This is leaving both tenants and landlords in a state of uncertainty for months.

The delays aren't all bad news for tenants, though. It could mean more time to put together the money to pay back rent, seek financial assistance or explore legal options. But that's only helpful if the tenant is actually aware the eviction has been filed — something not necessarily guaranteed under state law.

Hennepin County, which has the most eviction filings in the state, saw the most dramatic increase in the time between an eviction filing and either a judgment or even a first hearing. In June, the average time had increased to about two and a half months. By August, it was over four months.

Other counties are seeing less severe increases. The average time in Ramsey County is about two and a half months. In Anoka County, it's about six weeks.

A spokesperson for the Fourth Judicial District, which covers Hennepin County, said the court is planning to schedule more hearings per week starting next month. However, he declined to comment further about the backlog, saying staff members need more time to assess trends.

The statewide eviction moratorium, which was introduced in the first month of the pandemic, lifted in June, resulting in a deluge of eviction filings in state courts. More than 2,000 cases were filed statewide each month of the summer. Prior to the pandemic, there would be an average of 1,300 eviction filings per month.

The number of new filings has slowed somewhat during the past few weeks, but it will take months for the courts to clear the backlog.

"The whole system is stressed. The legal aid system is overworked, the court system is overworked. Financial assistance programs are overworked. Shelters are full. There aren't places for people to go," Sterling said.

For landlords, the court delays mean that more months go by in which they aren't receiving rent from occupied units. Some property owners are having trouble making mortgage payments on their buildings or covering utility costs, according Angie French, vice president of Mid Continent Management Corp., a property management company.

"The economic impact that's creating is substantial," French said.

For tenants facing eviction, though, longer wait times for hearings may be preferable to the quick turnarounds that were normal before 2020.

"We were working under a broken system before the pandemic," said Mary Kaczorek, managing attorney for Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid's housing unit, which provides legal assistance to people who are being evicted.

Kaczorek described a rushed process before the pandemic where tenants and landlords would be summoned to court for mass hearings and tenants had little time to find legal representation, seek financial assistance or negotiate with their landlords.

"Having more time is a good thing because it keeps folks housed while they have time to get connected with resources to help maintain their housing or get caught up [on rent]," Kaczorek said.

A 51-year-old Richfield woman who received an eviction notice in July will not appear in court until Oct. 5. But it means the woman, who asked not to be named out of concern that it could affect her eviction proceedings, has time to cobble together the more than $8,000 she owes her landlord.

"I knew that getting the help would take time, so time is on my side," she said.

As a full-time Uber and Lyft driver, the woman said, her income plummeted at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and she could no longer pay rent. She requested emergency assistance through the state, but that never came through.

In early September, she got $2,500 from the Salvation Army and said she's waiting to hear from another rental assistance program. She plans to continue working and, she hopes, pull together enough money to pay off what she owes before her court date.

"I feel so good about the court day being that date," she said. "I may have to be out here 17 to 18 hours a day, but that's OK."

PRISM, a nonprofit that connects families with resources, has been flooded with calls from people being evicted. Last month they had 250 calls, well above the 50 or 60 that were typical before the pandemic. Bridget Glass, a PRISM employee who helps people find housing, said tenants can end up in a bad situation if they don't have "a person in their corner."

"Oftentimes the landlord will win the battle, and the tenant will just kind of submit to whatever is going on there," Glass said.

In order to take advantage of legal or other help, though, a tenant needs to be aware that an eviction has been filed against them. The state has no requirement that landlords notify tenants before filing for eviction, though Minneapolis, Brooklyn Center and St. Louis Park have passed local laws requiring notifications.

Under state law, tenants are only required to be notified once the court issues a summons, which must happen seven to 14 days before a hearing.

With hearings in Hennepin County scheduled more than 120 days into the future, months could go by before a tenant learns of their eviction. And rent is still due during the months until the hearing, which for a tenant who can't pay means an even larger debt.

HOME Line operates a program called the Eviction Prevention Project that seeks to notify tenants as soon as an eviction is filed. Staff members review court filings daily and send letters to tenants with new eviction filings notifying them of the filing and informing them about legal and financial resources.

"In some situations, our letter gets to them before they get anything from the court. This may be the first time they've heard about the eviction," Sterling said.

Hennepin County Housing Court is also trying to improve eviction notifications. The court has begun sending letters to all parties involved in an eviction with information about its Eviction Prevention Program, which points tenants to legal and financial resources. The letters are sent out before a formal summons is issued.

However they learn about an eviction pending against them, the stakes are high for the growing number of tenants in Minnesota facing the prospect of losing their homes.

"An eviction has a very long-lasting and negative impact on people," Sterling said. "Once you have an eviction on your record, it is almost impossible to find housing."

Staff writer Katelyn Vue contributed to this story.