As expected, Governor Baker signed into law “An Act providing for a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during the COVID-19 Emergency.” This law puts the brakes on all current and future evictions for the time being.
Who’s Covered by the Eviction Moratorium?
The eviction moratorium applies to all residential landlords and tenants, and commercial “small business premises unit” tenants, who fit a narrow definition for a small business.
What’s Covered Under the Eviction Moratorium?
Landlords are not permitted to serve notices to quit, file eviction cases, or seek a default judgement against tenants. The moratorium also bans nearly all other possible action that could occur in an on-going eviction proceeding.
How Does This Affect Current Eviction Cases?
The eviction moratorium suspends any deadlines involved with a pending eviction case. In cases where the landlord has already obtained an execution for possession, the bill prevents landlords from being able to use it (known as “levying an execution”).
How Long Will This Last?
120 days after the passage of the bill or 45 days after the COVID-19 emergency declaration has been lifted . . . whichever is sooner. The Governor also has the power to extend this moratorium.
In essence, this means that, most likely, no evictions will be proceeding until July 2020, at the absolute earliest.
What Are the Exceptions to the Eviction Moratorium?
Evictions are allowed for cases concerning:
(a) criminal activity that may impact the health or safety of other residents, health care workers, emergency personnel, persons lawfully on the subject property or the general public; or
(b) lease violations that may impact the health or safety of other residents, health care workers, emergency personnel, persons lawfully on the subject property or the general public
There are also several exceptions for certain commercial evictions.
My take is that a landlord will need a strong, documented case against a tenant to even try one of these limited exceptions. Few judges are going to readily allow an eviction with the coronavirus ongoing.
Are There Any Protections for Landlords During the Eviction Moratorium?
The law allows landlords to use a last month rental deposit for “expenses”, such as mortgage payments and repairs. From my reading of the law, a landlord cannot use a last month rental deposit for unpaid rent alone.
If the landlord uses this deposit, the landlord must notify the tenant, inform the tenant that the deposit will still be applied for rent at the last month of the tenancy, and that the landlord must still pay the tenant interest on this deposit.
This is not allowed for a security deposit.
Must Tenants Continue Paying Rent During the Eviction Moratorium?
Yes. However, given this moratorium, a landlord will have limited means of doing anything about non-payment of rent for quite some time.
For landlords, be extremely careful when dealing with non-paying tenants. Any conduct that could be considered a “self-help” eviction is not worth the risk.
With the courts (and the rest of Massachusetts) closed, evictions aren’t happening anyway. This moratorium will continue this status quo for months ahead, and push most evictions into Summer/Fall 2020.
As I’ve written before, there will be an enormous backlog of cases when the courts reopen, from both existing cases and the inevitable future cases that will arise over the next few months.
If you need assistance with a landlord-tenant matter, feel free to contact me.