Eviction protection bill clears Housing Committee
Legislation would extend moratorium for a year
A BILL THAT WOULD BAN most evictions and foreclosures for up to a year after Gov. Charlie Baker ends the coronavirus state of emergency cleared a key legislative hurdle on Thursday.
The Joint Committee on Housing advanced the bill in a party line vote, 14-2, just 18 days before the state’s eviction ban is set to expire. The effort, led the House chairman of the housing committee, Rep. Kevin Honan, Rep. Mike Connolly, and Sen. Pat Jehlen, would effectively extend the current eviction moratorium a full year after the end of the state of emergency and freeze all rent increases.
All 14 Democrats on the panel voted to advance the legislation. Republican Reps. David DeCoste and Will Crocker voted no, while Republican Sen. Patrick O’Connor of Weymouth abstained.
The committee made a several changes in its final version of the bill, which was originally filed in late June. The most significant was to allow landlords to apply for a tax credit from the state, equal to the amount of rent owed to them, if they forgive the corresponding rental debt of tenants who can’t pay because of COVID-19–related financial hardship.
Eligibility for the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition program would be expanded. Under the program, households meeting certain income requirements that have been impacted by the pandemic are eligible to receive up to $10,000 to be used for rental payments.
Tenant advocates lauded the bill’s movement, but landlord groups and some housing attorneys aren’t as pleased.
Douglas Quattrochi, director of trade group MassLandlords, said the bill authorizes tax credits for landlords “subject to availability.”
“It looks like it’s funded, but the fine print matters,” he said, suggesting the bill could amount to an “empty promise” for landlords struggling without rental payments coming in.
Connolly said the “funding structure is something intentionally left out” so legislators could focus on the framework of the legislation. He said the continued standoff in Washington over further stimulus aid has left federal funding that the state might receive in flux.
The bill now moves to the House Ways and Means Committee, which, Connolly said, will focus on the “funding and cost aspects of the bill.”
The Housing Committee broadened the scope of tenant protections in the legislation, limiting no-fault evictions and requiring landlords to show just-cause in the rare instances they are allowed to file for such action in housing court. A separate bill limiting such evictions failed in the Legislature a previous year.
The committee also recommended the creation of a legislative commission to study the impact of the pandemic and economic fallout on housing.
Quattrochi said he had concerns that the commission didn’t offer a seat to his organization, which represents 2,000 Massachusetts landlords, half of whom own less than six units. “You think we’re going to support this? Rep. Connolly is either careless or trying to stick it to us,” he wrote in an email.
Among the members proposed are: Honan and Sen. Brendan Crighton as chairs of the joint committee on housing; the chief justice of the housing court or a surrogate; a member of Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, directors of the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, Housing Partnership Fund, Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation, executive directors of tenant rights groups like City/Life Vida Urbana, academics, directors of local housing authorities, affordable housing developers, a member of the Small Property Owners Association, and others.
Baker has indicated he plans to allow the eviction moratorium law to expire on October 17, but has not made a final commitment.
In a recent court decision on a lawsuit brought by landlords challenging the moratorium, US District Court Judge Mark Wolf rejected their request to temporarily stop the eviction ban, but indicated it needs to end at some point.“What is constitutionally permissible for a limited period of time may become unpermissible at some point,” Wolf said.
The landlords’ attorney, Richard Vetstein, said he took Wolf’s comments to suggest a 12-month extension of the moratorium would “likely be unconstitutional.”