The Massachusetts House and Senate have advanced bills that would halt evictions and foreclosures as the coronavirus shutdown continues. But by Friday the two chambers couldn’t agree on a final version — and now the measure goes to a conference committee of six lawmakers to hash out differences over the days ahead.
"We don't want people [forced to move] in this period," said Lew Finfer, of the Massachusetts Community Action Network. "The wheels of the eviction process are turning. This moratorium language would end the practice of being able to file in court ... and then send notice to tenants."
Since the state's Housing Court closed to non-essential business, the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute estimates that more than 500 eviction cases have been filed. The longer the state doesn't have an eviction moratorium in effect, advocates say, the more eviction cases will pile up to be litigated after the state of emergency.
The group's Andrea Park said she's optimistic the final legislation will protect a broad swath of renters, but wants to be sure no loopholes allow renters to be "dispossessed of their units during this pandemic, either by judicial decree or by agreement."
Doug Quattrochi, of the group Mass Landlords, said he’s neutral on the bills, but he realizes tenants shouldn't be forced into the street during a public health emergency.
The moratorium "could send a clear signal that everybody is supposed to stay put, and that could have huge public health benefits," he said. "The problem is long-term economics: how are all of these homes going to be paid for?”
Quattrochi estimated that landlords across the state saw an 8% decrease in rent payments in April. And he expects that could double if the crisis spills over into May. He says the state should guarantee rent payments for tenants who can't pay because of the coronavirus.
The Senate bill has a provision for 180 days of mortgage forbearance, though Quattrochi noted that only applies to owner-occupied buildings of four units or less.
"It's better than nothing, but if you think you have a comprehensive response, you're tricking yourself here," he said.
The House version also includes a blanket moratorium on commercial foreclosures, while the Senate bill limits protections to small businesses.
With reporting from the State House News Service