IN THE TWO MONTHS since the state’s eviction moratorium ended, 4,524 landlords have filed cases against 5,912 tenants for non-payment of rent.
Most housing advocates and landlords are expecting a wave of eviction filings, but it’s still too early to gauge how bad it’s going to get.
Case filings jumped from 164 in October, after the moratorium ended on the 17th, to 2,771 in November, and 1,589 through December 29.
The Metropolitan Area Planning Council, a regional planning agency, suggested in a recent report that larger corporate landlords, which own roughly a third of rental units in Boston, could eventually be responsible for a disproportionate share of evictions in the coming months. About 50 of the 1,600 large landlords in Boston have signed a pledge to abide by the federal moratorium, work with tenants on payment plans, and accept rental assistance funds from the state.
The process for evictions starts slowly. Landlords begin the eviction process by sending a 14-day notice to quit to tenants they want to evict for nonpayment of rent. After a tenant doesn’t reply to a notice or declines to move, the landlord can then serve them with a summons for a court date. If mediation isn’t successful within two weeks, court proceedings can move forward. In 2019, it took 20 days, on average, for an eviction to play out after that point.
If tenants officially claim within 30 days that the pandemic changed their financial status (a layoff or reduced hours) and caused them to fall behind on their rent, they may be able seek a stay of an eviction under a moratorium established by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That moratorium, which was scheduled to expire on Thursday, was extended until the end of January in the recent federal stimulus package. Some communities have also extended their own moratoriums; the Boston Housing Authority, for example, extend its eviction moratorium to March 1.
The federal stimulus package creates a new $25 billion federal rental assistance program launching in January. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a research organization, Massachusetts could get around $458 million in rental assistance from the bill.
Housing agencies are required to use 90 percent of the funds to help tenants pay utility costs and back rent. Under the legislation, cities and states can make payments directly to landlords or utility companies on behalf of renters. If a landlord refuses to accept the rental assistance, then assistance can be provided directly to the renter, who can then make payments to the landlord or utility provider.
Gov. Charlie Baker has come under fire for distributing over $100 million of state housing assistance funds too slowly. Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, raised the issue recently when the House was overriding some of the governor’s budget vetoes. “While the administration is working as quickly as it can, it can’t keep up with the demand,” he said.
Isaac Simon Hodes, director of the housing advocacy group Lynn United for Change, said his organization has fielded over 100 separate phone calls from desperate tenants since the state moratorium ended. “Some of those have received notices to quit or a summons to court, others have received verbal threats of eviction, and others are behind on rent and looking for help,” he said.
Hodes said the governor’s plan to help them isn’t working. “There’s so many pieces of the so-called eviction diversion initiative that just aren’t in place, aren’t working, and aren’t adequate, said Hodes. “It’s just outrageous.”