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Campaign to end no-fault eviction wins new attention

Just Cause Eviction push draws eye of media, politicians

Jule Pattison-Gordon

Members of the Right to Remain Coalition got a boost of confidence and now seek to seize momentum after their campaign for legislation protecting tenants from no-fault evictions received a flurry of media and political attention.

This December, the Just Cause Eviction campaign, which started collecting signatures in June, drew attention from outlets including WGBH, WBUR, The Boston Globe and the Neighborhood Network News, as well as comments from Mayor Martin Walsh. If passed, the proposed legislation would require landlords to provide a reason to evict and to sit down to non-binding mediation with tenants before raising rents by more than 3-5 percent. The goal is to make it harder for landlords to force out responsible tenants in order to pursue higher rents and greater profits.

“[The attention] has made us really believe that this is a priority in the city,” said Yvette Modestin, community organizer with Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation.

Coalition members said they hope to get their proposed ordinance before the city council in January 2016. If it succeeds there, the measure goes to the mayor and then — if he signs — to the state Legislature.

Where the council stands

To pass in the city council, the Just Cause Eviction bill needs sponsorship from one city councilor and the support of seven. If the campaign can win over nine councilors, it will be immune to a potential mayoral veto.

Among the strongest champions of the cause are Tito Jackson, newcomer Andrea Campbell and departing councilor Charles Yancey, said Jason Boyd, director of communications for Codman Square NDC.

But all councilors are for — or, at least, not against — the idea, according to coalition members.

“All of the [councilors] at this point have expressed support to one degree or another for the legislation,” Boyd said. “There’s been varying degrees of support and enthusiasm.”

“No councilor has said, ‘No,’ that they don’t like the idea,” Modestin added.

Seven councilors attended or sent representatives to voice support at an assembly and rally this past October: Jackson, Yancey, Campbell, Ayanna Pressley, Frank Baker, Michael Flaherty and Michelle Wu. At that point, councilors were only speaking about the general cause — no specific legislation had been written.

In the recent months, campaign members wrote and sent the proposed ordinance to all councilors and have followed up with individual meetings. To date, Right to Remain coalition members have met with eight councilors and have several more to go: Mark Ciommo and Michael Flaherty — who are scheduled for early January — Bill Linehan and Salvatore LaMattina, Modestin said.

Mayor Walsh

Among the coalition’s next discussion topics: potential bill sponsorship, Modestin said. Coalition members also hope to meet with the mayor in January.

Walsh supports the general idea of just cause eviction and his administration is examining how such a move might be implemented, he told Boston Public Radio in December.

“We’ve had some conversation about this and how it works,” Walsh said. “If everything worked out positively we could do something, absolutely.”

Open questions

One major question councilors raised is how the mediation provision will be orchestrated. Under the proposed Just Cause Eviction law, if landlords seek to raise rents by more than 3-5 percent — the exact percentage is under discussion — they first must sit down with the tenant and a third-party mediator for non-binding discussion.

Some councilors wanted to know which department would handle the mediation, Modestin said — she proposes the Department of Neighborhood Development — and further logistical details.

A visible debate

Members of the Small Property Owners Association have signaled their opposition to Just Cause Eviction laws.

SPOA’s executive director Skip Schloming argues in an article on SPOA’s website that the laws would overly burden owners by limiting the revenue they can get from their properties and enforcing bureaucratic hurdles — the mediation process — to rent increases. He predicts, in the piece appearing on the website, that steps to keep rents from rising would disincline developers from building more housing and make it difficult for landlords to afford improvements to their property.

“The effect of just-cause eviction will be to stop rent increases or allow only de minimus ones,” he wrote. “Such an effect would stop virtually all capital improvements on controlled properties.”

Ideology aside, SPOA’s opposition reflects heightened attention to the issue and demonstrates to the Right to Remain coalition members that their proposed measure has become a serious topic of discussion.

“[It] which indicates to us that this really is gaining momentum, which is very important,” Boyd said.