the following is a press release from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office submitted to SOURCE media.
BOSTON – With the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures set to expire in just over a month, Attorney General Maura Healey is calling on Governor Charlie Baker to use his statutory authority to extend the law that temporarily prohibits Massachusetts landlords from evicting tenants from their homes, and lenders from foreclosing on most homes, in light of the continuing COVID-19 public health crisis.
“This public health crisis continues to cause enormous financial hardship for people across our state and now is not the time for more people to become homeless,” AG Healey said. “It’s critical that Governor Baker extend this moratorium to ensure our residents have the resources and assistance they need to stay safe. My office has already stopped more than 70 illegal evictions and will continue to monitor this issue.”
The current moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, which was enacted on April 20, in most circumstances prevents landlords from terminating a tenancy, sending a notice to vacate the residence, and from filing evictions in court. It also extends the deadline to respond to or appear in court for any eviction cases filed before the law went into effect until after the emergency moratorium is lifted.
The law also prevents lenders from foreclosing on single-family homes or those with up to four units for missed mortgage payments. Under current law, the Governor has authority to extend the legislative moratorium in increments of up to 90 days.
During the public health crisis, the AG’s Office has been closely monitoring the housing court docket, and reviewing complaints from residents and referrals from partner organizations for evictions filed in violation of the moratorium and of the federal CARES Act. The office has called out law firms and landlords who were not complying with the law, including by sending cease and desist letters to those who were violating the federal and state eviction moratoriums. As a result of these efforts, the AG’s Office has stopped more than 70 illegal evictions from moving forward, allowing these tenants to stay in their homes during the public health crisis.
The AG’s Office has successfully mediated several complaints of “self-help” evictions – where landlords have attempted to circumvent the court process and forcibly remove tenants from their homes. It is unlawful to threaten, intimidate, or coerce a tenant to get them to leave the property, including by threats to report them to immigration authorities. This protection applies to all tenants, whether they have a lease, a sublease, or no lease at all.
Since the eviction moratorium went into effect, the AG’s Office has received more than 130 complaints from across the state of violations of the law including of illegal evictions.
The AG’s Office has heard about instances of landlords threatening to change the locks, sending tenants notices to vacate that are not labeled as such, and attempting to use a minor violation of a lease and deeming it as a health and safety risk that would fall under the moratorium’s exemption and would thus allow them to evict the tenant.
During the pandemic, evictions can only be brought when a tenant violates lease terms or engages in criminal activity in a way that impacts the health or safety of others who are lawfully on the premises. This exception should only be used where there are serious health or safety concerns that can’t otherwise be addressed.
A report released last month from Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers and the City Life/Vida Urbana group, cautioned that the Boston area faces an “impending crisis” of evictions, that will continue to disproportionately impact communities of color.
Rent and Mortgage During the Moratorium
The AG’s Office issued an advisory on the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants under the moratorium in May. The office advised tenants that they should continue to pay rent during the public health crisis, but if they are unable to do so because of a COVID-19 related financial hardship, they should notify their landlord in writing and provide documentation within 30-days of their missed payment. Landlords are prevented from assessing a late fee if they receive notification of the tenant’s inability to pay.
The AG’s Office encourages landlords to work with their tenants on reasonable payment plans for any missed rent payments during the public health crisis. Landlords should also work with tenants seeking rental assistance through programs such as the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT).
Landlords can use a tenant’s last month rent payment to cover their own mortgage payments, utilities and repairs during the public health crisis. In order to do this, the landlord must inform the tenant in writing before the last month of their tenancy that the funds will be used to cover expenses and they cannot charge the tenant for the last month of rent if it was previously paid. They must also provide the tenant with the same amount of interest that would have accrued if the last month’s rent payment had remained in a separate reserved bank account.
During the moratorium, landlords are prevented from using security deposit funds to cover expenses.
The AG’s Office advises homeowners to continue to pay their mortgage during the public health crisis, but if they are unable to do so due to a COVID-19 related loss of income, they should notify their lender and can delay their payments for up to 180 days. The lender is not allowed to foreclose on the property due to missed payments. Lenders must add missed payments to the end of a homeowner’s loan period and the lender is prevented from charging late fees, penalties or interest. The lender is also prohibited from reporting the homeowner to a credit agency.
The AG’s Office is actively monitoring foreclosure filings at the registries of deeds and reviewing all reports of improper foreclosure activity to ensure compliance with the moratorium. The office is also maintaining close contact with all major mortgage servicers active in Massachusetts to ensure that borrowers are able to obtain forbearances and deferrals of their mortgage payments in accordance with the requirements of the moratorium.
AG Healey’s Civil Rights Division urges any tenant who is being harassed, threatened or discriminated against to call the division’s hotline at (617) 963-2917. Tenants who are being unlawfully forced out of their homes should call their local police department and the Attorney General’s consumer hotline at (617) 727-8400.
The AG’s Consumer and Advocacy and Response Division encourages homeowners who are having an issue with their mortgage lender to file a complaint with the office online or to call the office’s hotline at 617-727-8400.
Click here for information from the AG’s Office reminding landlords and other housing providers that all tenants have a right to be free from harassment and intimidation.