Two landlords challenge eviction moratorium law
Claim statute is allowing tenants to refuse to pay their rent
TWO LANDLORDS have filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Judicial Court challenging the state’s temporary moratorium on eviction foreclosures.
In April, the Legislature passed and Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a moratorium banning evictions and some foreclosures during the coronavirus pandemic. The bill was passed over the objection of landlords who worried that tenants would stop paying rent, making it impossible for landlords to pay their bills and maintain properties.
Tenants rights groups had said the moratorium was necessary to prevent poor renters, who may have lost income due to COVID-19, from being evicted and becoming homeless during a pandemic.
The emergency petition was filed Friday on behalf of Mitchell Matorin, a Worcester property owner, and Linda Smith, who owns a property in Allston. They are suing the housing and trial court systems and the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. The SJC has not yet set a date to hear arguments.
“The way the law was written was very one-sided and unfair to landlords, mostly smaller landlords that don’t have the ability to just sit and wait for this to be undone and for courts to open,” Greenman said.
“It’s an affront to everyone’s civil rights and it sets a really bad precedent that the Legislature can shut down the courts,” Vetstein added.
Matorin and Smith argue in the petition that they are required to pay mortgages, real estate taxes, insurance, and water/sewer bills “while being effectively deprived of the revenue required to do those things.”
Smith said her property was being rented by three tenants. Two left, and the third said he would not pay rent in April because “the governor said I do not have to.”
The landlords, in their court brief, estimate that 20,000 pending eviction cases could be impacted by the moratorium, along with thousands more cases that have not been filed. They say tenants are increasingly informing landlords that they will not pay rent because they cannot be evicted.
Attorneys for the landlords wrote that the executive branch, in imposing the moratorium, is unconstitutionally interfering with the domain of the Trial Court. (The Trial Court imposed its own moratorium on eviction proceedings, but the law went further, stopping all aspects of an eviction both before and after it reaches the court system.) The attorneys say the law unconstitutionally infringes on the rights of landlords to access the courts and on their free speech rights by preventing them from sending tenants a notice telling them to leave the premises. The lawyers say the law impairs the landlord-tenant contract and violates the constitutional ban on taking private property without compensation by giving landlords no recourse to obtain payments from a tenant.
“What the Act really does is forcibly impose an unfair economic policy of transferring the financial burden of the COVID-19 crisis from tenants to private property owners, without providing any state financial aid to compensate rental property owners for those losses,” the petition writes.
Finfer noted that tenants are still obligated to pay under the law, and they can be evicted if they do not pay their rent after the moratorium expires.