Boston Mayor Walsh Files Ordinance to Equip Residents Facing Eviction

Boston Mayor Walsh Files Ordinance to Equip Residents Facing Eviction With Information On Their Rights and Resources

BOSTON, MA (STL.News) Building on his commitment to keeping residents in the City of Boston stably housed, Mayor Martin J. Walsh today filed the “Housing Stability Notification Act” with the Boston City Council, an ordinance that would ensure Bostonians at risk of eviction know their rights and have access to the resources available to them.  The Mayor introduced the ordinance ahead of October 17, when the statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures lifts.

“Bostonians need to focus on keeping themselves, their families, and their neighbors healthy and safe during the COVID-19 public health crisis –they do not need the added stress of wondering if they will have a place to live,” said Mayor Walsh.  “We want Bostonians at risk of eviction to understand that they have rights and protection under the law, and that a Notice to Quit is not an automatic eviction.  There are programs and services that can help Bostonians stay stably housed, and we want everyone to utilize them to remain safe.”

The ordinance requires property owners and constables who are serving a Notice to Quit (the first step in the legal process of an eviction) to provide a document containing information on tenant rights and resources available to them when issuing a Notice to Quit or non-renewal of lease.  This multilingual document provides information about City and State rental relief funds, guidance on filing a federal declaration of need to potentially protect against eviction, and a list of services such as legal counsel, dispute mediation, fair payment agreements, and other supports.

The information contained in the document is intended to either prevent an eviction or assist tenants in rehousing quickly and safely if they are evicted.  The document must be provided at least 30 days prior to taking action against the tenant. If the landlord fails to follow the ordinance, they can be reported to the Inspectional Services Department for enforcement.  Each failure to comply with the ordinance will be considered a separate offense triggering a separate warning or fine.

The new ordinance would also require that when a landlord or foreclosing owner serves the tenant or former homeowners any Notice to Quit or notice of lease nonrenewal, they must at the same time, also serve a copy of the notice to the City of Boston’s Office of Housing Stability.  The Mayor has consistently advocated for these protections against displacement, including in 2017 when he signed the Jim Brooks Community Stabilization Act, a home rule petition that if law, would have helped protect a residential tenants and former homeowners living in their homes following a foreclosure against arbitrary, unreasonable, discriminatory, or retaliatory evictions, and help ensure that tenants and former homeowners are aware of their rights.

This ordinance is part of a larger effort by the City to aid residents who may be at risk of eviction. Mayor Walsh has advocated in support of An Act to Ensure Right to Counsel in Eviction Proceedings, which would provide any low-income tenant facing eviction with a court-appointed attorney for representation.  More than 90 percent of renters who faced eviction in Massachusetts last year had to represent themselves in Housing Court, while 70 percent of landlords had a lawyer, according to testimony presented by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.

In addition, the City will contract with Greater Boston Legal Services to add additional attorneys to assist tenants facing eviction. The Office of Housing Stability (OHS) has hired an additional housing court navigator to assist tenants who are beginning the eviction process.  These housing court navigators assess the tenant’s situation and determine which resources and services would be useful to preserve and stabilize their tenancy, which may include linking them to financial assistance, housing search, and advocacy organizations.  This broader social services approach supports overwhelmed tenants and helps them to access financial assistance from the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) and the Rental Relief Fund. OHS staff will hold multiple weekly virtual clinics for eviction defense following the end of the moratorium.

The Rental Relief Fund will be accepting new applications after the eviction moratorium ends, with up to $4,000 in rental assistance available for eligible tenants.  The Rental Relief Fund was established in April 2020 to aid residents who lost their income due to COVID-19 and were unable to pay their rent.  The City of Boston dedicated $3 million to the first round of the Fund, and then added an additional $5 million in June. So far, the Fund has distributed more than $3 million in aid covering the rent of more than 900 households.  This payment goes directly to the landlords.

The City has also taken steps to enhance programs to help homeowners, many of whom are small landlords, to meet their own financial obligations, make critical repairs, and stay in their homes.  The Boston Home Center (BHC) has partnered with the City of Boston’s Tax/Title division to reach out to more than 8,000 homeowners who are past due in property taxes.  This multilingual insert directs homeowners at-risk to the BHC’s Foreclosure Prevention and Intervention services.

This direct outreach supplements the City of Boston’s work in working with banks and mortgage lenders to provide at least three months in a loan deferment for homeowners, with the option to extend for longer periods, if needed.  Currently, 17 banks and mortgage lenders have signed on to the goal of approving deferments within 21 days of application and with only essential paperwork needed from the homeowner.  The lenders will not report this deferment as a bad loan, nor report it to the credit bureaus as being a late loan.  They will not charge late fees on the late loan payments or deferments.  Once the deferment period is complete, the homeowner is not required to pay the total deferment/forbearance amount in a lump sum.

Additionally, to ensure that homeowners have access to financial assistance for critical home repairs, Mayor Walsh recently announced that the Seniors Save program is increasing grants from $3,500 to $8,000 for the total replacement of a heating system for Bostonians older than 60 who meet income eligibility requirements.  Also, the Lead Safe Program is increasing its loan limit from $8,000 to $10,000 per unit as a three-year deferred forgivable loan, and the triple-decker program has been merged with the Homeworks program so that now any three-unit home can be eligible for up to $30,000 in a deferred forgivable loan.

Although the Massachusetts moratorium on evictions and foreclosures is ending on October 17, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a federal eviction moratorium intended to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.  The order, ending on December 31, 2020, prevents the evictions of people who lost work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In order to be covered by the CDC moratorium, tenants are required to sign and submit a declaration to their landlord stating that they qualify for protection under the moratorium.  The City of Boston has translated this declaration into 11 languages, and posted it on the Office of Housing Stability website so eligible tenants can sign it and send it to their landlord.