Keeping people in their homes

The legislature enacted today 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.

Update: Implementing Regulations now appear at this link, including forms for tenants and landlords.

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.

Comparisons to Other Jurisdictions

CaliforniaExecutive Orders N-28-20 and N-37-20 protect tenants from eviction by landlords and foreclosure by financial institutions due to rent and mortgage nonpayment that results from financial hardship associated with the pandemic. Rent freezes, which prohibit landlords from raising rent during the pandemic, have been adopted by some municipalities (eg. Los Angeles and San Jose)
New YorkExecutive Order 202.8 forbids commercial or residential tenants from being evicted or foreclosed until June 20 Executive Order 202.9 provides those unable to pay their mortgage the opportunity to forebear their payments
OregonExecutive Order 20-11 institutes a 90-day moratorium on residential evictions due to rent nonpayment
WashingtonExecutive Order 20-19 institutes a moratorium on residential evictions due to rent nonpayment and prohibits landlords from assessing late fees through June 4
GermanyFederal law prohibits landlords from both terminating tenant leases for rent nonpayment and increasing rent through June 27
IrelandFederal law allows mortgage holders to request a payment suspension for up to 18 months, and offered tax credits to commercial lease holders to cover 60% of March rent
UKFederal law prohibits landlords from evicting tenants for rent nonpayment through September 30
Chart prepared by Quinn Diaz, Office of Senator Brownsberger

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

Join the Conversation

15 Comments

  1. A very tough but necessary decision however I do believe that it was very one sided in that if you are willing and satisfied to put a small landlord on the hook for the possibility of lost income then the person who wrote the bill should have had a clause that such landlord could come to the state for payment. My concern is for owner occupied landlords with a two or three family house with a large mortgage who will be financially hurt if tenants fail to pay their rents. If state politicians feels good about throwing the burden on small folks then they should not be holding positions of power as they are no better than corporations who take advantage of our population. Shame!

    1. “A very tough but necessary decision however I do believe that it was very one sided…”
      “…If state politicians feels good about throwing the burden on small folks then they should not be holding positions of power as they are no better than corporations who take advantage of our population. Shame!”
      With all due respect, Sir, your point is well made…but what is your solution to this very complicated situation other than disparging the decision makers ?

      1. Actually, John, this one is fully solved. The bill does fully address the concern for the owner occupied landlords with a two or three family house with a large mortgage who could be financially hurt if tenants fail to pay their rents. Under the bill, during the emergency, his mortgage may not be foreclosed upon and further, the mortgage is required to postpone payments due during the emergency until the end of the mortgage if the borrower requests it.

        1. Postponing payments until the end of the mortgage does NOT solve the problem unless the bank is also required to suspend interest for those additional months. Also, the rule that landlords can’t send notices requesting tenants to vacate may deny owners their rights since courts (especially in Massachusetts) are likely to say since a landlord didn’t enforce their rights in a timely manner, they are thereby forfeited.

  2. I think this policy is utterly unfair and dangerous for small owner occupied buildings. Some owners count on that income for living expenses and the policy would jeopardize their livelihood. How about a policy where the state would pay small landlords if tenants are left without a job and without unemployment?

    This policy maybe justified with non owner occupied tenants who are left without jobs and without unemployment. It is scary for small owners relying on the income for living expenses. It needs to be revised immediately before people take advantage on it.

    1. “those whose income has been interrupted due to COVID-19 will ultimately have to catch up on payments or face all the usual consequences”

      This right here is garbage. People were struggling enough as it was before this hit. I’m fortunate enough to have a job where I can work from home. If I were still on restaurant pay, I’d have to move. There would be no way I could pay the exorbitant rents in our district back on top of regular bills.

      Hope folks start rent striking if they’re in this situation, I’d join in solidarity.

    2. Yeah some poor landlords are living from someone else’s paycheck to someone else’s paycheck.

  3. We need to consider all the unintended consequences of this bill. It does not give protection to landlords for example.

  4. I am a School Nurse in Boston. I applaud the bill for health reasons. Shelters are over crowded and don’t allow for social distancing. I think we need to remember this is a once in a life time occurrence ( I sure hope) that requires special protections. Thank you for supporting this bill and for all the good you are doing in our world

  5. Will, this is great news and thanks for sharing. While I do believe it is right and proper to appreciate the work of the committee chairs, I think Rep. Connolly deserves a big shout out!

  6. Exactly. I can see it now, banks generously giving you time to pay back missed mortgage payments at a huge interest which could add years to a mortgage, or renters having to go without electricity and half their meals and get a second job to pay for all the missed rent they’d have to make up once they get another job, probably at a lower rate than what we had because, you know, we’d be desperate for any job at that point.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply to Rick Stacy Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *