State judge blocks attempt to end eviction moratorium
Says ban is not an ‘unreasonable exercise’ of state’s power
A SUFFOLK SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE on Wednesday rejected a request by two landlords to suspend the state’s moratorium on evictions, saying the ban is not an “unreasonable exercise” of power.
“I cannot see my way clear in finding that Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on merits of their claims that the Eviction Moratorium Law is an unreasonable exercise of power having no actual relation to the public safety, public health, or public morals,” wrote Judge Paul Wilson.
Two landlords from Randolph and Worcester brought the case, arguing that the moratorium is unconstitutional and that the state is allowing tenants to basically take property without paying for it. A parallel case, focused on federal constitutional arguments, is playing out in federal court and has a hearing next Tuesday.
Richard Vetstein, who is representing the landlords in both cases, had asked the state court for an injunction in early August to open housing courts to evictions.
Vetstein said he doesn’t anticipate a flood of evictions when the ban is lifted.
Joseph Michalakes, a legal aid attorney, argued at an earlier court hearing that tenants who continue to be financially strapped due to job losses will be among the tens of thousands expected to be part of eviction filings as soon as the ban lifts. He referenced information from a report produced by City Life/Vida Urbana and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Michalakes, on behalf of tenant groups that include City Life and Chelsea Collaborative, said those organizations believe today’s Superior Court order “appropriately recognizes that the Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium law plays a vital role in Massachusetts’ ongoing and comprehensive effort to defeat the spread of COVID-19.”
They said the ban is particularly critical in communities with large numbers of low-income people, who have been the hardest hit by the disease.
Gov. Charlie Baker extended the statewide eviction and foreclosure moratorium by 60 days at the end of July. The ban suspends most residential and small business commercial evictions, as well as residential foreclosures. It doesn’t forgive mortgage and rent payments.City Life/Vida Urbana claims that thousands of families at risk of eviction have called the organization’s hotline during the pandemic. “This decision allows them to keep a roof over their heads for the time being,” said executive director Lisa Owens.
Jennifer Greaney, the assistant attorney general representing the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development in the suit, didn’t reply to requests for comment on Wednesday. During arguments, she said the eviction freeze doesn’t deprive landlords of the ability to defend their rights – it only puts that process on pause.