Coronavirus has become a worldwide pandemic, and its effects are being felt here in Massachusetts. If you are like me, your work and personal life have been heavily interrupted by this crisis, which unfortunately, will likely stay this way for a while longer.
Here, I want to share some advice for Massachusetts landlords dealing with coronavirus. Since this outbreak is new, and we are dealing with uncharted territory, this post is subject to change.
Evictions During the Coronavirus Epidemic
Last weekend, Housing Court announced that all evictions are to be postponed until April 21, 2020 or later. While the court is allowing cases to be heard earlier upon a showing of good cause, my bet is that most landlords will unlikely be able to meet this high bar.
This means, in effect, that no evictions will go forward for the next month. For small landlords with non-paying tenants, this will especially be a burden.
This also means that Housing Court will be swamped with cases in Spring/Summer 2020. On a normal week, each Housing Court gets dozens (if not hundreds) of new eviction cases. This one-month postponement will result in a huge backlog of eviction cases for months to come.
Care and Maintenance of Residential Apartments
It is a good idea for Massachusetts landlords to remind their tenants of the importance of preventing coronavirus, namely, through cleaning and disinfection. While it is a safe bet that nearly everyone knows about this pandemic, Massachusetts landlords can avoid potential liability by being on record about notifying their tenants with these precautions.
Housing Discrimination Laws
One potential area of liability that I see arising during coronavirus is housing discrimination. State law (and federal) strictly prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of race and national origin. The ongoing epidemic is perpetrating some horrendous racial stereotypes.
Statements like these are not only untrue, but also potential grounds for discrimination. Even an innocent question such as, “Where are you from?”, can subject a landlord to liability. For these reasons, now more than ever, landlords need to be careful about complying with housing discrimination laws when dealing with existing and potential tenants.
I want to express my deep gratitude for the many health care and public service employees who are working to help combat this epidemic. For information on the latest about coronavirus, visit Massachusetts’s official website.
If you need assistance with a landlord-tenant matter, contact me for a consultation.