‘We’re being pushed out at an alarming rate’
Despite current federal and state restrictions on evictions involving rental debt, no-fault evictions, which often stem from a landlord’s desire to “flip” property or attract higher-paying tenants, exist in a legal gray zone without the same protections.
“This loophole is plaguing families across Boston and Massachusetts, leading to evictions and displacement in an extremely dangerous moment for our collective health,” says Steve Meacham, coordinator of Organizing for City Life/Vida Urbana, which last week rallied outside a property near Codman Square where tenants are facing evictions they fear will mean homelessness for them.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Stephania Pierre-Noel put her health on the line as a frontline worker at a local nursing home. Now, just a year later, she faces eviction from her home for the last nine years, 740 Washington St.
Her downstairs neighbor, Jean Gaspard, who has lived at the property on the edge of Ashmont Hill for 13 years, is confronting the same fate.
“We’ve been good tenants,” Pierre-Noel said. “Paying rent on time, no problem.”
Nevertheless, they claim, their new landlord, who was not identified at last Wednesday night’s vigil, has gone to extreme measures to push them out since inheriting the property from her deceased former employer last year.
Gaspard describes the level of harassment he’s faced as “too much for me. She messed up everything downstairs. She took away my stove. She took away everything,” he said, noting that he has been living without a fridge or access to his laundry machine for months.
According to City Life/Vida Urbana organizer Antonio Ennis, “This is a tactic that the landlord is using to frustrate him, to shame him, and push him out of here hoping that he’ll leave. That’s a tactic that we’re not going to tolerate.”
Efforts by the Reporter to reach the owner, Susan Rose of Randolph, by phone this week were unsuccessful. The property is in a realty trust.
The Massachusetts Trial Court has reported that 449 eviction cases were executed across in the state last December, despite the moratorium on renters’ evictions the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) ordered last year.
During the pandemic, no-fault evictions are proving to have serious consequences. According to Ennis, “People with pre-existing health conditions are compromising themselves by going into shelters.”
Frank Sharpe won a reprieve in his "no-fault" eviction last Friday. Photo courtesy City Life/Vida Urbana
Frank Sharpe, a disabled 71-year-old Vietnam veteran living at 25 Lawrence Ave. in Dorchester, is currently facing that prospect. After receiving his eviction notice he applied for housing through the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) and through Metro Housing.
“I’m waiting for the opportunity to be placed. I need more time,” he said.
Ennis discussed Sharpe’s plight at the vigil. “He used to own his house, but he fell on hard times. The bank decided to do a short sale. Frank didn’t have City Life at the time. He lost his home to a landlord who paid half of what Frank paid for the home,” said Ennis.
“If the bank can take this property and sell it to someone else for half of what they sold it to Frank for, why couldn’t they just sell it to Frank? It’s simple. And it’s this simplistic stuff that is predatory against people of color in this community. Because Frank didn’t know his rights, they took advantage of him. He understands what happened. He took it on the chin. He’s a soldier. All he’s asking for is more time.”
On Friday, two days after the rally, Sharpe received just that— more time— after Judge Anne Kenney Chaplin, an associate justice in the state’s Eastern Housing Court, ordered that his eviction be postponed until May 10. The reprieve came after an attorney representing Sharpe— Maggie Gribben of Greater Boston Legal Services — showed evidence that Sharpe has been able to make his rent payments.
Pierre-Noel and Gaspard are confident that they, too, can win their respective fights with the help of City Life/Vida Urbana.
Pierre-Noel said that when she received her eviction notice, “I didn’t know what to do. Then I started to do my research and I found out about City Life. And I spoke to a great person who is Steve [Meacham], and ever since he’s been helping. And I’ve been feeling better. I’ve been going to a meeting every Tuesday, me and Jean, and that’s why we’re here today, so we can win this. And we believe we’re gonna win it.”
Gaspard added, “When it’s your time, I’m going to be on your side, too.”
Ennis closed the vigil with a call for collective action.
“This situation is very dear to me because this is my community and I grew up around here,” he said. “And I don’t like what’s happening. We’re being pushed out at an alarming rate. And for me, it’s very important that the people who are not in-tune to these issues become aware because maybe [no-fault eviction] hasn’t affected them, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t.
“When more people care, then more people come out and then we can fight this thing,” he added.