Attorney General Maura Healey Issues Advisory For Landlords & Tenants On Unlawful Evictions During COVID-19 Pandemic

The press release below is from the Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey:

BOSTON, MA — On Friday, Attorney General Maura Healey issued an advisory LINK to ensure residential landlords and tenants are aware of their obligations and rights under the law during the COVID-19 public health crisis in light of a new law that temporarily prohibits evictions in Massachusetts.

“Families across our state have suffered enormous financial hardship during this public health crisis, and they need to know that they won’t be kicked out of their homes,” AG Healey said. “My office is doing everything we can right now to monitor and prevent illegal evictions during these uncertain times.”

The advisory follows an increase of concerns about landlords attempting to circumvent the court process and forcibly removing tenants through “self-help” evictions. 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.

Under the recently enacted legislative moratorium, landlords cannot evict tenants from their homes. This means that, under most circumstances:

  • Evictions can’t be filed in court;
  • A landlord can’t terminate a tenancy, or send a notice to vacate the residence;
  • The deadline to respond to or appear in court for any eviction cases filed before the law went into effect has been extended until after the emergency moratorium is lifted; and,
  • Constables are prevented from moving a tenant out of the property.

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. The AG’s advisory makes clear that this exception should only be used where there are serious health or safety concerns that can’t otherwise be addressed.

Rent During the Public Health Crisis

Tenants should continue to pay rent, 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 advisory encourages landlords to provide notice to tenants for each missed rental payment and the notice must include information on their rights as tenants and available resources, as specified by the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

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 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.

Landlords are prevented from using security deposit funds to cover expenses during 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.

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.

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