New law holds up evictions, foreclosures – for time being

Governor Charlie Baker on Monday signed a bill into law that will temporarily halt evictions and some foreclosure proceedings in the state during the coronavirus pandemic.

The legislation, H.4615, prohibits all non-essential residential and small business evictions and foreclosures, provides mortgage borrowers with forbearance options, and protects tenants from late fees.

The moratorium will remain in effect for 120 days, or for 45 days after the COVID-19 state of emergency is lifted.

Betty Lewis, a Mattapan resident and tenant association leader who is active with City Life/Vida Urbana, said she was issued an eviction notice just days ago. She said she can’t afford a $300 rent hike that the management company at Fairlawn Apartments has demanded.

"A lot of people don’t have money, we’re just getting by,” said Lewis. “We're real humans, real people, we deserve to have a place to stay.” She was elated by news of the bill's passage.

The action by Baker and the Legislature followed weeks of negotiations and debate on Beacon Hill. They were under intense pressure from community groups, labor unions, public health organizations, and legal advocates to take action.

“In just over one day, more than 200 community groups, congregations, and unions signed on to a letter in support of a moratorium,” says Lew Finfer, a Dorchester resident who organizes with of MA Communities Action Network.

“That coalition is ready to push for the longer-term mortgage and rent relief discussed in the letter. We’re really encouraged that key leaders in the State House are already talking about the need for additional measures and we look forward to working with them on that effort.”

The Greater Boston Real Estate Board wanted Baker to send the bill back to the Legislature with an amendment removing a temporary ban on landlords issuing notices to quit, which board CEO Gregory Vasil called "a key part of, but preliminary to, any legal action.”

Housing advocates pushed for the ban because they said renters receiving such a notice may feel pressured to leave, putting their own health at risk in doing so. Vasil suggested adding language to the notices that would clearly inform renters of their right to stay at the property.

The House and Senate approved the bill on Friday and sent it to Baker.

“This is one of the most significant pieces of legislation we will pass during this state of emergency,” said Rep. Kevin G. Honan, Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on Housing (D-Boston). “It is important to remember that this is more than just a housing justice issue, it is a public health issue. In a time where our collective health and safety depends on the ability of each and every one of us to shelter in place, the need for housing stability has never been greater.”

House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) said members heard from constituents that the moratorium was an urgent need. “Many homeowners and renters need relief now from the economic strains building as a result of this public health emergency,” he said. “We acted to safeguard tenants and homeowners from economic insecurity during and for a period after the state of emergency ends.”

"This legislation is crucial for public health," added Andrea Park, an attorney at Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. "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."

The Greater Boston Interfaith Organization also thanked Baker for "taking swift action," stating that the bill will "provide much needed relief to families throughout the Commonwealth, especially low-income families."

State House News Service reports were used in this story.

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