State House News Service / April 15, 2020
The House advanced a compromise bill Wednesday afternoon to temporarily ban almost all eviction and foreclosure proceedings statewide shortly after Democratic negotiators made a breakthrough, but appeared unable to win over their Republican counterparts.
Six days after the branches established a conference committee because they could not reach agreement informally on the time-sensitive topic, the panel’s Democratic leaders announced a deal on legislation that would impose a moratorium on most housing removals. Within an hour, the House adopted the committee’s report.
“This legislation will offer much needed relief to thousands of renters, homeowners, and small businesses across the Commonwealth,” Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and Sen. Brendan Crighton, who led the private negotiations, said in a joint statement. “It is our hope that the Legislature will approve this bill and send it to the Governor as quickly as possible.”
The bill (H 4647) aims to prevent residents from losing housing during the coronavirus pandemic by mandating a pause on all non-emergency evictions and foreclosures on occupied properties.
Under the compromise, landlords cannot terminate tenancy or send notices to quit in cases deemed “non-essential.” Courts — which already are not scheduling new hearings to comply with a Trial Court standing order — are banned from accepting new complaints, entering judgments or default judgments, issuing executions or holding trials for non-emergency eviction processes.
“It’s going to be a big difference for those folks who fear they can be put out of their homes during this crisis,” Crighton told the News Service. “Obviously we applaud the Trial Court for taking the action they did, but the people I talk to every day want a sense of certainty, and I believe this legislation will give them that.”
Both residents and small business owners who rent property cannot be charged late fees for not paying rent as long as they submit notice and documentation within 30 days that the missed rent “was due to a financial impact from COVID-19.” Landlords are also barred from notifying consumer reporting agencies about failure to pay.
The bill explicitly notes, however, that it does not relieve tenants from their rent obligations or prevent landlords from recovering rent.
Property owners can dip into the final month’s rent paid ahead of time when possible, but they can only use that money on expenses such as mortgage and repairs and cannot use it to cover a month of unpaid rent. They must notify tenants in writing of any decision to do so, and they will still face obligations to consider the final month covered.
Mortgage holders can seek forbearance from monthly payments for up to 180 days under the bill in another form of attempted financial relief.
The bill’s moratorium and loosened restrictions would expire 120 days after it is enacted or 45 days after Baker rescinds his emergency declaration, whichever comes sooner, though it allows the governor to extend the timeline if the crisis continues.