Most evictions and foreclosures are now on pause across Massachusetts under a new law officials say is needed to protect renters and homeowners during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The moratorium, signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker Monday after weeks in the works, ensures landlords cannot follow through on non-essential evictions. Exceptions are made if a tenant poses a danger to the health and safety of others.
The law, which cleared the Legislature on Friday, also issues protections to residential and small business renters alike and requires mortgagees to grant forbearances to property owners impacted by the coronavirus-related financial fallout.
“Yesterday I signed legislation pausing evictions and foreclosures, to provide additional relief and protections for homeowners and renters during this time when many residents are facing economic hardship,” Baker said in a statement Tuesday. “We thank our legislative colleagues for their careful work on this bill.”
The measure puts evictions and foreclosures on hold for 120 days, or 45 days beyond the day the COVID-19 state of emergency is lifted, whichever date arrives sooner. Baker also has the authority to extend the moratorium in increments of 90 days at most, according to the law.
“This is more than just a housing justice issue, it is a public health issue,” Boston state Rep. Kevin Honan, a co-lead sponsor of the law alongside Cambridge Rep. Mike Connolly, wrote on Twitter. “In a time where our collective health and safety depends on the ability of each of us to shelter in place, the need for housing stability has never been greater.”
For renters, landlords cannot terminate tenancy or send any notice — including a notice to quit — “requesting or demanding that a tenant … vacate the premises,” according to the law.
Courts, meanwhile, cannot hear eviction cases or enter judgments while the provisions are in effect, nor can sheriffs carry out executions for possession.
According to The Boston Globe, landlord groups said property owners do not want to evict tenants, but they say the law goes too far in prohibiting them from starting what are usually months-long legal proceedings, and may seek to challenge the law in court.
Landlords are also barred from charging tenants, including small businesses, late fees for non-payments of rent and from providing credit data to consumer reporting agencies if renters, within 30 days of a missed payment, can provide documentation that the non-payment was due to income loss because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
H.4647 became law today. This is more than just a housing justice issue, it is a public health issue.
— Kevin G. Honan (@RepKevinHonan) April 20, 2020
Landlords may use the last month’s rent payment provided by a tenant in advance to cover costs as needed, according to the measure.
The law, however, does not relieve tenants and homeowners from having to pay rent or a mortgage during the crisis.
Thank you @MassGovernor for singing our bill establishing an Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium into law this afternoon. This will help ensure housing and community stability during the #COVIDー19 emergency in Massachusetts. pic.twitter.com/6kRTSIUesX
— Mike Connolly (@MikeConnollyMA) April 20, 2020
Still, a creditor or mortgagee is required to grant a 180-day forbearance if a homeowner submits a request affirming that they have “experienced a financial impact” because of the global pandemic, the law says.
Mortgagees are prohibited from beginning the foreclosure process as well.
“This legislation is crucial for public health,” Andrea Park, an attorney at Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, told the State House News Service. “If we are going to stay home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, we must all have a home to stay in. The strong moratorium passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor will help ensure that evictions and foreclosure do not force people into unsafe situations.”