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Janey rolls out ban on evictions

Moratorium aimed at protecting Boston renters amid COVID surge

Avery Bleichfeld
Janey rolls out ban on evictions
Acting Major Kim Janey PHOTO: JOHN WILCOX, MAYOR’S OFFICE

Following a state-level ban on evictions that expired in October 2020 and a federal ban that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in August, acting Mayor Kim Janey on Aug. 31 announced a municipal eviction moratorium for the city of Boston.

The ban, which falls under the control of the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), aims to prohibit the delivery of a notice of levy, the final step in an eviction process that indicates a court has mandated the physical removal of a tenant from their apartment.

The moratorium also mandates that landlords who want to enter a tenant’s rented unit for any purpose must inform tenants at least 48 hours in advance and give the residents a chance to reschedule the entry time.

According to the Mayor’s Press Office, the 48-hour window is designed to give tenants the ability to better avoid potential COVID-19 exposures.

Unlike the federal moratorium, which had an expiration date, Boston’s ban is structured to stay in place indefinitely. Under the moratorium, the executive director of the BPHC has the power to decide when to end the ban.

In a statement sent to the Banner, BPHC Executive Director Bisola Ojikutu said that the moratorium will protect Boston residents until they can get the rental assistance they need to stay in their homes.

“COVID-19 continues to be a public health emergency,” Ojikutu said. “The Delta variant is more transmissible and may cause more severe illness and overcrowded housing can increase the risk of exposure. This public health order, by the Boston Public Health Commission, establishing a temporary eviction moratorium will provide Boston residents in urgent need of rental assistance additional time to process applications for funds to avoid homelessness and other housing situations that may increase the spread of COVID-19.”

Doug Quattrochi, executive director of MassLandlords, said that members of his organization — which he described as largely smaller, part-time landlords — tend not to take much issue with eviction moratoriums.

“Our members understand where someone like Mayor Janey is coming from, trying to give people some assurance that they’re not going to be evicted, and by and large, our members are able to get rental assistance, so we don’t really want to go to court for renters for non-payment anyways; we want to work through things.”

He said he thinks the moratorium lacks any real way of being enforced. According to Quattrochi, evictions happen at the level of state-run courts, above the authority of Janey and the City of Boston. He said the state Legislature or the chief justices of the the Housing Court have the power to change the court process, but not the mayor of Boston.

“If a sheriff or a constable gets that order and they’re in the City of Boston, they’ve got a real conflict,” Quattrochi said. “They can either follow the courts, which are ordering them under the force of law to remove someone from a rented premises, or they can follow what Mayor Janey hopes they’ll do and not follow that execution, but ultimately the city doesn’t have any enforcement authority.”

When asked for details about enforcement, the city directed the Banner to the language of the order itself. According to the text of the moratorium, the city will attempt to secure voluntary compliance with the order but it can be enforced through the courts or the assistance of other Boston agencies.

Despite Quattrochi’s doubts about enforcement, he said he doesn’t expect any legal challenges to come from his organization.

“It’s definitely open to legal challenge, but I’d be surprised if it came from any one of my members,” Quattrochi said. “I know people are angry about this in the landlord community, but they’re angry about it on a more philosophical plane rather than a practical matter.”

The Small Property Owners Association, in a statement released to the public, said its members are opposed to the moratorium because it puts a burden on landlords to house non-paying tenants. Instead, they said they are advocating for programs that help landlords get some of the rental assistance from the federal government — Boston has $50 million in its Rental Relief Fund and Massachusetts received $800 million.

Quattrochi said he’d also rather see more landlords and tenants getting rental assistance than being evicted.

“No landlord wants to lose their customer and go through the all the trouble of a long and difficult court process,” Quattrochi said. “There’s kind of a myth that evictions are fast and rapid, and in some parts of the country they certainly are, but not in Massachusetts.”

Massachusetts had a statewide eviction moratorium in effect from April 2020 until October 2020, when Governor Charlie Baker let the ban expire.

Cindy Rowe, executive director of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, said that Boston’s moratorium is a good start for protecting tenants, but that the state should take further action.

“I think that the city was very forward-thinking in doing this to make sure we avert an eviction crisis in Boston, and I would urge our state legislators to think about what they can do to protect tenants all across our state who are about to face really an unbearable burden for themselves and their families,” Rowe said.

Rowe is in support of the COVID-19 Housing Equity Bill, which would institute a handful of protections for tenants and mortgage-holders for the duration of the pandemic. Such protections would include pushing landlords to pursue rental assistance prior to an eviction and limiting no-cause evictions and would prioritize vulnerable residents in the distribution of rental assistance.

“We are still working to make sure our state legislators are paying attention to this bill. We have not moved ahead in passing a statewide moratorium, and many people are at risk right now,” Rowe said. “… It would do so much to stabilize the housing situation of those really suffering right now due to COVID.”

At a Labor Day rally organized by the Greater Boston Legal Council, Mimi Ramos, executive director of New England United 4 Justice, said the pandemic has emphasized the importance of having a home.

“Everyone deserves a home; housing is a human right,” Ramos said. “During the pandemic, housing became our schools, it became our workplaces — who doesn’t deserve a home?”

Ramos said state-level protections are more important now that the federal moratorium was struck down by the Supreme Court.

“We lost federal protections against evictions and foreclosures, but our governor and our state officials can pass the COVID-19 Housing Equity Bill to ensure there are protections for residents now,” Ramos said.

Meanwhile, at the federal level, Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley is pushing for a new federal eviction moratorium to be created in Congress — the avenue the Supreme Court left open for a national ban.

In an Aug. 27 letter from Pressley and other members of Congress to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, legislators said the dangers of the Delta variant merit protections for renters.

“As the Delta variant continues to claim thousands of lives, render people permanently disabled, and cause economic strife around the globe, legislators have an obligation to develop data-driven policies that accurately reflect the dramatic shift in the trajectory of the pandemic,” they wrote in the letter.

They said a moratorium would give everybody the time to get their feet underneath them.

“Businesses and workers alike need time to recover from the staggering economic impact of the pandemic; renters and small landlords need time to receive emergency rental assistance; and the entire nation needs time to heal from the devastating loss of life and health for the past year and a half,” the letter said.

Quattrochi said that a moratorium should be balanced with other pieces of a coherent policy response that would protect tenants and aid landlords while keeping everyone housed. But though the City of Boston now has an eviction moratorium and Janey announced at the same time the city’s $50 million rental assistance fund, he doubts this is that full response he was hoping for.

“If I had my wishes, last year when the pandemic started, we should have issued a guarantee that said, ‘Landlords, we’re going to pay for all this housing; renters, we’re going to make sure you stay housed. Nobody move. … ‘” Quattrochi said. “And there’s never been that coherent, consistent, ‘everybody, we’re all in this together,’ message. An eviction moratorium and rental assistance tied together, that’d be better, and we’re not there, and I don’t know if we ever will be.”

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