Eviction Notices During COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, new state requirements now exist for the service of non-payment of rent notices to quit. This includes a required attestation form and the filing of the notice to quit with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Eviction Notices During COVID-19: What’s Required?

For non-payment of rent notices to quit, state law now requires that landlords serve tenants with an attestation form, which provides an overview of the eviction process and resources available for tenants (a copy of the form is below).

This form must be served with the notice to quit, and both documents must be filed online with the state.

Practical Implications

Landlords need to be careful with eviction notices during COVID-19. Failure to comply with any of these requirements will likely derail an eviction case.

One of the requirements under the attestation form is to state whether the rental property is a “covered dwelling” under the federal CARES Act. If it is, this federal law requires a landlord to use a thirty-day notice to quit (rather than the standard fourteen-day notice).

Because it can be difficult at times to determine whether rental property falls under this law, I am erring on the side of caution and using a thirty-day notice, in most cases.

Landlords should be mindful that the CDC eviction moratorium remains in effect through the end of the month (and will almost certainly get extended). This moratorium does not prevent the filing of an eviction case, but it does stop a landlord from obtaining possession of rental property while the moratorium remains in place.

Conclusion

If it isn’t clear already, eviction notices during COVID-19 are tricky and can be a trap for the unwary. To avoid some of the pitfalls that can arise in these matters, contact me for a consultation.

Form

CDC Eviction Moratorium: Three Things to Know

The CDC eviction moratorium, which came out in September 2020, remains in place through the end of January 2021, and will almost certainty get extended.

Here, I’ll discuss three things to know about the moratorium.

The Moratorium Only Applies to Non-Payment of Rent Eviction Cases

The CDC eviction moratorium, importantly, only applies to non-payment of rent cases. If a landlord is evicting for no-fault or evicting because the tenant broke a term of their lease, the moratorium does not apply.

Massachusetts, however, allows a landlord to assert a claim for unpaid rent in every type of eviction case . . . not just those for unpaid rent. For example, if a landlord is evicting because the tenant violated a lease term, the landlord can still make a claim for unpaid rent in that case, even if the unpaid rent is not the main reason for the eviction. It remains an unresolved question as to whether the CDC eviction moratorium applies in those circumstances.

Tenants Must Invoke the CDC Moratorium On Their Own

Importantly, the CDC eviction moratorium requires tenants to take the initiative for invoking these protections. A tenant must do so by providing their landlord with a signed declaration (available online).

The CDC declaration includes some specific requirements for tenants, including an income restriction and a representation that the tenant is using “best efforts to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing.”

When filing an eviction case, a landlord must file an affidavit with the court stating whether or not the tenant has invoked this declaration (a copy of this affidavit is included below). Landlords need to be especially careful with this requirement. A landlord’s failure to timely notify the court about a CDC declaration could lead to severe penalties and delay in eviction.

A Landlord Can Still Initiate An Eviction Under the Moratorium, But Will Be Delayed in Obtaining Possession

Compared to the prior state eviction moratorium in Massachusetts, the CDC moratorium still allows a landlord to file and proceed with an eviction case against a tenant. The main restriction under the CDC moratorium is that a landlord cannot obtain a court order for possession (“execution”) while the moratorium remains in place.

While there is still some inevitable delay to landlords in obtaining possession of a rental unit, the CDC moratorium is not a complete bar on evictions. For this reasons, landlords can and should move forward with an eviction case for non-payment of rent.

Final Thoughts

Although the CDC moratorium does delay the eviction process, it isn’t the end of the world for Massachusetts landlords, as eviction cases can still be filed. This, in my opinion, is critically important: the sooner that one of these cases begins, the sooner a resolution can be reached. Often, the mere filing of an eviction case is enough to move one of these matters along.

If you need assistance with a Massachusetts eviction, contact me for a consultation.

Affidavit

Massachusetts State Eviction Moratorium Ends: Three Things to Know

The Massachusetts state eviction moratorium officially ends today, with Governor Baker declining to extend this protection for tenants. Here, I’ll discuss three things for landlords to know about the status of evictions in Massachusetts going forward.

A Federal Eviction Moratorium, Under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), Remains in Effect

Although the state eviction moratorium has ended, a federal regulation remains in place through the end of 2020. Compared to the state eviction moratorium, the CDC regulation is far less burdensome for landlords.

The CDC regulation only applies to evictions for non-payment of rent, and requires tenants to take the affirmative step of invoking the protections of this regulation, through an affidavit to the landlord. Under this regulation, a tenant (who meets specific criteria) prohibits a landlord from evicting a tenant through December 31, 2020.

Importantly, this regulation does not prohibit the filing of an eviction case; it only prevents the actual eviction of a tenant. In other words, a eviction case may go forward, but the actual process of removing a tenant from rental property must wait until next year.

The prior state eviction moratorium, in contrast, stopped all stages of the eviction process, and applied to nearly every type of eviction.

New Requirements for Non-Payment of Rent Notices

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which passed earlier this year, requires certain landlords to use a thirty-day notice to quit for non-payment of rent eviction cases (as opposed to a standard fourteen-day notice to quit).

This requirement only applies to landlords with a federally backed mortgage, or a participant in a federal grant or voucher. The language of this law is broad, and covers a wide array of different federal programs. For this reason, landlords should err on the side of caution when deciding whether to send a fourteen or thirty day notice for non-payment of rent.

It remains unclear how long this requirement remains. For now, I recommend following this requirement for the imminent future.

New Eviction Procedures in Housing Court

The procedure for evictions in Housing Court has changed, and will likely never be the same again. Before, eviction trials were automatically set by the court’s schedule, on a weekly basis. Now, trials will be scheduled following an initial conference with the court’s staff.

Hearings and trial, importantly, will likely done through Zoom, with few in-person hearings at courthouses.

Although the formal protections of the state eviction moratorium are over, Housing Court still has the inherent ability to offer tenants more time to stay in a rental apartment, under appropriate circumstances. I suspect, strongly, that Housing Court will continue to entertain such requests from tenants in the months to come.

As a practical matter, there is an enormous backlog of eviction cases in the courts now, with many more to come. Landlords need to be practical and realistic about what to expect from the eviction process going forward.

Final Thoughts

If you need assistance with a Massachusetts eviction, contact me for a consultation.