With eviction ban lifted, landlords have next move

Can CDC moratorium plug the gap for renters?

ON THE FIRST business day after the end of a six-month long statewide moratorium on evictions, not much happened. But that could change fairly quickly.

The 11,000-plus pending cases that were filed before the mid-April ban will now start moving forward in the state’s housing courts. A large chunk of those pending cases are so far along in the legal process that the landlords will simply obtain from the courts execution notices, which allow constables or sheriffs to physically remove a tenant and their belongings from their apartments.

Landlords can also begin the eviction process by sending a 14-day notice to quit to tenants they wish to evict for nonpayment of rent. After a tenant doesn’t reply to a notice to quit or declines to move, the landlord can then serve them with a summons for a court date. If mediation isn’t successful within two weeks, court proceedings can proceed. In 2019, it took 20 days, on average, for an eviction to play out after that point.

Tenants have one other, last recourse. If tenants officially claim within 30 days that the pandemic changed their financial status (a layoff or reduced hours) and caused them to fall behind on their rent, they may be able seek a stay of an eviction until the end of December under a moratorium established by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cambridge Rep. Mike Connolly, who is seeking to reinstate the state eviction moratorium until Jan 1., called the CDC eviction ban “very limited and very narrow” because the rules and paperwork around claiming a COVID-19 hardship aren’t clear, particularly for tenants without legal assistance and those who speak other languages.

“It doesn’t offer much protection at all because a tenant will get a notice to quit and will get confused and think that’s an eviction itself,” said Connolly, who said tenants often don’t understand the difference between that first document from a landlord and an order from a judge that comes at the end of eviction proceedings.

Housing attorneys echoed that sentiment. “At first it seemed pretty broad,” said Joey Michalakes, an attorney for Greater Boston Legal Services who has worked to defend the state moratorium against legal attacks by landlords.

The CDC issued a guidance on October 9 clarifying its moratorium after lawsuits from landlords were filed. The guidance said the moratorium “does not preclude a landlord from challenging the truthfulness of a tenant’s declaration in any state or municipal court.”

“It only applies those very last acts of an eviction process. The removal of the tenant,” said Michalakes. The federal ban allows for landlords to send a notice to quit, allows the court process to play out, only stopping short of allowing a judge to issue an execution for removal.

Douglas Quattrochi, who heads the advocacy group MassLandlords, said the CDC moratorium may let eviction proceedings move ahead but a tenant cannot be evicted if they lost the income they need to pay rent due to the coronavirus.

“The CDC ban absolutely undercuts the idea that tens of thousands will face eviction. I mean, notice can be served, but no one impacted by COVID should be ordered to leave before December 31 at the earliest,” he said.

He said his organization is trying to make sure the CDC moratorium is honored so a tenant receiving a notice to quit doesn’t panic and move out without taking advantage of their rights.

“We’re trying to make sure owners and renters know that if that happens, renter’s lives could be at stake and in the worst case they could die and landlords could face a $500,000 fine and a year in jail,” he said. Quattrochi was referring to the maximum penalty landlords can face if their renter is evicted improperly and dies as a result.

Estimates of how many households could face eviction in Massachusetts vary dramatically. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council has estimated upwards of 80,000 households could be affected, while the National Low Income Housing Coalition estimated last week that the number could reach 300,000.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Rep. Kevin Honan, the House chair of the Legislature’s Housing Committee, used Twitter to inform tenants of their rights. In a long thread, he tweeted out information about notices to quit, the federal moratorium established by the CDC, and a link to Boston’s rental relief fund.

Gov. Charlie Baker a week ago announced a $171 million eviction diversion initiative that includes $100 million in rental assistance with maximum grants of $10,000 per household. The initiative also funnels more than $20 million to the Trial Court system to rehire retired judges and bring in mediators and translators to handle what is expected to be a rising caseload.