On Monday, April 20, 2020, Governor Baker signed House Security Bill 4647, entitled “An Act Providing for a Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures during the COVID-19 Emergency.” The legislation will halt “non-essential” residential and small business commercial evictions for 120 days, or 45 days after Governor Baker lifts the COVID-19 Emergency Declaration.
Impact of the Housing Security Bill.
The bill will not relieve tenants from any obligation to pay rent, or restrict a landlord’s ability to recover unpaid rent, but is our legislature’s response to the financial hardships created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill halts “non-essential evictions” against residential tenants and “small business” commercial tenants. “Non-essential evictions” include evictions for non-payment of rent, those resulting from a foreclosure, “no-fault” evictions, and “cause” evictions wherein the alleged cause does not involve allegations of criminal activity or lease violations that impact the health and safety of other residents, health care workers, emergency personnel, persons lawfully on the property, or the general public. “Small business” commercial tenants are commercial tenants, both for-profit and non-profit, where the tenant (or a subsidiary company, joint venture, or other party in control with the tenant) does not operate in multiple states / nations or trade publicly, and has less than 150 full-time equivalent employees. However, commercial landlords may still commence eviction proceedings against small business tenants for an expired lease term or default, prior to the COVID-19 emergency, by the tenant under the terms of their lease.
Prohibition Against Evictions.
In suspending non-essential evictions, the housing security bill sets forth specific prohibitions against landlords, the courts, and the sheriffs / constables during the effective period. Landlords are prohibited from taking actions to terminate a residential tenancy for the purpose of a non-essential eviction, including terminating the tenancy, sending notices (including notices to quit), and requesting or demanding a tenant to vacate the dwelling. The bill bars the courts (with respect to both residential and commercial non-essential evictions) from:
- accepting writs, summonses, or complaints for filing in a summary process or eviction action;
- entering judgment or default judgment for possession;
- issuing executions for possession;
- denying requested stays of execution or continuance of a summary process action; and
- scheduling court events (including summary process trial).
Furthermore, to protect any summary process and eviction actions entered prior to the COVID-19 emergency, the bill extends deadlines and time periods for action by parties to a non-essential eviction, including answering a complaint and appealing a judgment or levy. Sheriffs, constables, and other persons who are otherwise empowered to carry out or levy upon an execution, are prohibited from enforcing or levying upon executions for possession of either a residential premises or small business commercial premises.
Notice By Tenants to Avoid Fees and Negative Credit Reporting.
The housing security bill enables residential and small business commercial tenants to avoid late fees and credit reporting if, within 30 days of missing a rent payment, they submit notice and documentation to their landlord stating that their nonpayment is the result of financial hardship from COVID-19. If the tenant provides timely notice and documentation, the bill prohibits the landlord from imposing late fees for nonpayment or submitting rental payment data to a consumer reporting agencies.
The above is a summary of the bill’s effect on evictions during the COVID-19 emergency. The above does not constitute legal advice. If you are a landlord seeking to understand your options during this emergency time or a tenant experiencing financial hardships, you should consult an experienced Massachusetts attorney to understand your rights and remedies.