The following piece was provided by State Sen. Will Brownsberger, who represents Watertown, Belmont and parts of Boston:
The legislature enacted (Friday) a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. We should not put tenants or homeowners out on the street while we are trying to enforce social distancing.
The bill is not a rent or mortgage holiday. It does not extinguish the obligations of renters or borrowers. Those lucky enough to avoid job loss during the COVID-19 recession should continue to make their regular payments. Those who defer payments without promptly offering an explanation of COVID-19-related income loss will face negative credit consequences. After the emergency ends, those whose income has been interrupted due to COVID-19 will ultimately have to catch up on payments or face all the usual consequences.
The bill creates a moratorium on legal enforcement of rent or mortgage obligations. The courts will not be available to landlords or banks seeking to remove people from property. The courts had already closed themselves to non-emergency proceedings creating a de facto moratorium, but the bill extends and broadens this moratorium. Landlords cannot initiate eviction proceedings, pending eviction proceedings are suspended, and even if an eviction order was previously granted it cannot be enforced by a sheriff or constable. Similarly, banks cannot initiate or prosecute foreclosure proceedings.
Residential landlords are prohibited even from requesting in writing that a tenant vacate a unit, much less going to court for an eviction. This was an important point of contention in negotiations about the bill. Landlords fear that without the ability to send a notice requesting that non-paying tenants leave, many tenants will simply take a rent holiday. Tenant advocates argued that many tenants will not know their rights and will unnecessarily leave if requested to do so.
We resolved the notice issue in favor of tenants for fundamental public health reasons. We hope that tenants who are able to pay will not abuse the moratorium. The moratorium lasts for 120 days or until 45 days after the end of the declared COVID-19 emergency, whichever is sooner. If the emergency remains in effect, the Governor can extend the moratorium in increments of up to 90 days. This approach should protect tenants through the emergency, while creating the opportunity to review whether the moratorium is working as intended. If able tenants are abusing the moratorium, it may not be extended. The term of the moratorium on evictions is the same as the term of the moratorium for foreclosures, but the Governor can make separate decisions about whether to extend them.
The balance we have struck with this bill is roughly the balance that many other jurisdictions have struck — if you can’t pay due to the emergency, you don’t have to pay during the emergency, but ultimately you have to catch up.
Some landlords feel we have gone too far and predict widespread abuse by able tenants, loss of income to landlords and foreclosures on landlords. The foreclosure moratorium only covers owner-occupied residential properties with four units or less. It provides no protection to the small landlord who borrowed to buy the house next door and happened to rent to someone who is unable to pay or just decides not to pay during the emergency. Landlords are unlikely to be able to actually collect from tenants who stay put without paying through the emergency and depart afterwards, but their own mortgage obligations are ultimately inescapable.
Some tenants facing job loss feel we have not gone far enough. Knowing that when the moratorium ends they will not be able to catch up on rent, they feel we should have completely extinguished their obligations during the emergency so that when the emergency ends and when they are able to earn again, they could start fresh without any catch-up obligations. They think of landlords as more able to absorb the loss.
The balance we have attempted will work out best if landlords and tenants, and borrowers and lenders talk to each other. We cannot legislate the right formula for all the hard situations that are going to emerge. We will have to work out the difficulties together over the weeks and months to come.
Thanks to Representative Kevin Honan of Brighton and Senator Brendan Crighton of Lynn, co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Housing for their hard work in developing this legislation and successfully negotiating a final agreement. Full details of the bill can be found at this link. To go straight to the bill text, click here.
See more information on Sen. Brownsberger’s site by clicking here.