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Walsh Files Petition Aimed At Helping Tenants Facing Eviction And Gathering Housing Data

A view of Maverick Square in East Boston, where advocates have raised issues around evictions in the past. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A view of Maverick Square in East Boston, where advocates have raised issues around evictions in the past. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
This article is more than 6 years old.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is seeking city council approval for a new effort to help tenants facing no-fault evictions.

Walsh filed a home rule petition Monday aimed at protecting tenants from "unreasonable" evictions and ensuring they know their rights under the law. The measure is formally known as the Jim Brooks Community Stabilization Act — named after the late longtime activist Jim Brooks, who advocated for the disabled and people facing evictions.

Under the measure, no-fault evictions — or evictions that do not fall under certain criteria, such as failure to pay rent, damaging property, creating a nuisance or violating the terms of a lease — would not be allowed.

“There is a legal ability to evict, but what wouldn’t be allowed under this is that you can’t just empty out a building because you want to empty out a building for sale, condo conversations [or] major renovation. So that’s what this piece of legislation safeguards against,” said Sheila Dillon, the head of the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development.

The measure would also require landlords to notify the city when they begin any eviction process, or when they issue a lease non-renewal letter or notice of fixed term lease expiration. This would have to be done within two days of serving notice to a tenant. Failure to do so would invalidate a landlord’s right to proceed.

Lydia Edwards, the head of the city’s Office of Housing Stability, said the notice requirement will allow the city to gather better data about evictions in real-time. Currently, the only data the city has is of eviction cases that make it to housing court.

“A lot of what we’re trying to do is see what’s going on and be able to respond appropriately,” said Edwards, whose office was formed earlier this fall to help residents in housing crisis.

By getting a landlord’s notice of eviction, the city will also be able to reach out to tenants to inform them of their rights and be better positioned to help both sides resolve a dispute, Edwards said. Within five days of receiving word of an eviction notice, the city will mail housing resources to the tenant. The city is also looking to set up a hotline for residents dealing with eviction, according to Edwards.

The petition would also allow homeowners whose homes have been foreclosed on to stay in their homes and pay fair market rent, according to Dillon. Former homeowners would still be able to stay in foreclosed properties until the property or unit is sold and the new owner wants to occupy it.

These provisions wouldn’t apply to all landlords in Boston. Landlords who own less than seven units would be exempt. Other exemptions include: Hospitals, health facilities, undergraduate housing managed by colleges or universities, housing for recovering programs or the homeless, and public housing that’s already subject to eviction restrictions under state law.

The petition also would not prevent landlords from increasing rents.

Housing advocates have long been calling for tenant protections and changes to the city’s housing laws. In recent years, advocates have pushed for a so-called “just cause” eviction ordinance that would make it harder to remove tenants from apartments because of increasing rents. The issue has also come up before in the city council. Walsh’s petition in some ways is similar to what advocates have called for in the past. The city said it's had conversations with housing advocates and landlords as it crafted its petition.

Steve Meacham, an organizer with City Life/Vida Urbana, said he’s “delighted” Walsh filed the petition. His group has been pushing for a just cause eviction ordinance and worked with the city on this new measure. Meacham said the measure will empower tenants dealing with a housing crisis.

“It gives the tenants a lot more power to negotiate when they know what their rights are and face an eviction for not paying a rent increase,” Meacham said.

Still, Meacham said the petition doesn’t go far enough. Ideally, “rent regulation would be a perfectly justified response to the current crisis,” he said. But Meacham believes the petition should be enough to appeal to landlords, who have fought hard against past calls for a just cause ordinance.

“We think that more should be done than this, but this is what we think is plausible and what should pass right away,” Meacham said.

Greg Vasil, the CEO of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, said the state already provides protections for tenants.

“Massachusetts is an incredibly tenant-friendly state, and there are considerable controls in place right now for people who are being evicted,” Vasil said.

However, Vasil said his group would strongly consider Walsh’s petition.

“Displacement is an issue, and it’s something that we’re concerned about and we would like to work with the administration on,” Vasil said. “And we’ve talked about this with them to find ways to get people into housing that end up, after a tenancy at will, losing a place to live.”

The city said it sees the petition as part of other ongoing efforts to boost affordable housing and tackle displacement. Officials said the passage of the Community Preservation Act — Ballot Question 5 in Boston — last month will also help those efforts. The city also plans to pursue other legislative measures around tenant protections, according to housing chief Dillon.

If passed by the city council, the petition would need the approval of state lawmakers.

This article was originally published on December 05, 2016.


Zeninjor Enwemeka Senior Business Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a senior business reporter who covers business, tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.



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