Draft Rent Freeze Legislation

MAY 1, 2020 UPDATE — Rep. Connolly is pleased to report that with the help of legislative colleagues, housing justice organizers, and legal services advocates, Massachusetts now has the nation's strongest Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium. At present, he is working in partnership with others to finalize the text posted below to guarantee medium-term housing stability once the COVID-19 emergency ends. The hope is have a version of this draft legislation introduced to the Massachusetts House of Representatives later this month. Please continue to spread the word and offer your feedback!

APRIL 1, 2020 UPDATE — Here is draft "Rent Freeze" legislation prepared by Rep. Connolly over the past five days with help, feedback, and input from housing justice organizers and attorneys with experience defending tenants who are facing eviction. The draft bill has three sections:

  • Section 1 ensures that any rent that goes unpaid as a result of lost income during the COVID-19 emergency cannot be used as the basis for evicting a tenant during the emergency or after, and any such unpaid rent cannot be reported to a credit agency or a collections agency.
  • Section 2 guarantees that for 12 months after the emergency ends, all tenants will benefit from "just cause eviction protections" and all tenants will be able to continue with the same rental payments that were in effect on March 10, 2020, the day the emergency started in Massachusetts.
  • Section 3 protects tenants from any sort of legal record of an eviction attempt for nonpayment of rent during the emergency.

Right now, Rep. Connolly's top legislative priority is HD.4935, which will establish an Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency. That bill has 73 co-sponsors and is now advancing in the legislature. However, with April 1 now upon us and many tens of thousands of residents unable to make rent, we also need to get to work on additional measures to protect tenants — otherwise, we could see a wave of evictions soon after the emergency ends, and in the meantime, the ongoing fear of eviction will tend to undermine our efforts at social distancing, thereby exacerbating the ongoing public health disaster.

Good legislation is typically the product of collaboration, deliberation, and consensus building — but the COVID-19 emergency demands that we take immediate action. So in order move the conversation forward while also allowing an opportunity for feedback and review, Rep. Connolly is posting this draft "Rent Freeze" legislation online and inviting all interested parties to offer comments in the feedback box below. We will continue to gather feedback and work to file a version of this bill in the near future. Thank you for taking a look and sharing your ideas in the comments!

An Act implementing a temporary rent freeze and protections for tenants who have lost income as a result of the COVID-19 emergency

                  Whereas, the deferred operation of this act would tend to defeat its purpose, which is to establish forthwith ongoing protections for tenants from eviction for nonpayment of rent as a result of the COVID-19 emergency, therefore it is hereby declared to be an emergency law, necessary for the immediate preservation of the public convenience.

                  SECTION 1. Notwithstanding chapters 186 or 239 of the General Laws or any other general or special law to the contrary, it shall be a defense to a summary process complaint for possession of a residential dwelling unit if the tenant or occupant was unable to pay rent or use and occupancy payments due in-full or in-part as a result of lost income from the time of the governor’s March 10, 2020 emergency declaration designated as executive order number 591 (“Emergency Declaration”), until such time as the Emergency Declaration is rescinded by the governor. It shall be a rebuttable presumption that the tenant or occupant was unable to pay rent or use and occupancy payments in-full or in-part as a result of a loss of income stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. This defense for nonpayment of rent or use and occupancy payments during the Emergency Declaration shall remain in force after the Emergency Declaration is rescinded or terminated, such that no summary process judgement shall be granted solely on the basis of nonpayment of rent or use and occupancy payments due to a loss of income stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic while the Emergency Declaration was or is in effect. No person shall initiate, file or threaten to file a negative credit report or collection action to a credit reporting agency due to nonpayment of rent or use and occupancy accruing pursuant to this act.

                  SECTION 2. Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, for a period of 12 months after the Emergency Declaration is rescinded or terminated, no tenant may be evicted other than for good cause, and all tenants shall be allowed to continue with the payment terms and conditions that were in effect on March 10, 2020.

                  SECTION 3. Notwithstanding any general or special law, rule or regulation to the contrary, no court having jurisdiction of a summary process action or any other trial court department shall make public or publish, in any manner, the name or other identifying information, such as the person’s address, of any person named as a party to a summary process action for non payment of rent during the Emergency Declaration; provided, further, that such information shall be impounded and shall remain permanently unavailable for public inspection or publication except as ordered by the court for good cause shown.

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

New Tenants + Broker Fees

Thank you Rep. Connolly for drafting this important legislation and presenting this for comment! I have two comments. First, It is not clear from the current draft whether the rent freeze will equally apply to new tenants (or just those with a lease as of March 10). Second, I wonder if you considered including a 12 month ban of recovering broker fees from tenants (in full or in part). This would allow renters more flexibility in finding a safe and desirable housing for all renters during hard economic times.

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Rent Freeze vs Rent Debt Cancellation/Forgiveness

The term "freeze" and the phrase "all tenants shall be allowed to continue with the payment terms and conditions that were in effect on March 10, 2020" are unclear. Will this bill cancel the debt accumulated from March 10 onwards, until the state of emergency is lifted? Or does this phrase mean all payments from March 10 onwards will resume once the state of emergency has been lifted? Tenants who cannot pay now will not be able to pay months from now. All tenants need outright cancellation/forgiveness of rent debt accumulated during the COVID19 emergency. Please clarify if this is what is meant by a rent "freeze."

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Retaliatory Refusal to Rent

Hi Rep. Connolly, Thanks for presenting this draft legislation, which seems to remedy the failure of M.G.L. c 186 ss 18 to protect renters who are unable to remain current on rent payments from retaliatory evictions. I think one thing that I'd be in favor of exploring now during the current public health crisis, and going forward, is the provision of relief for tenants against retaliatory refusal to rent. As the summer months approach, the state can expect to see a high degree of lease renewal, as tenancy by-and-large tends to commence between June and September, particularly for student renters. With Massachusetts embroiled in the peak of its COVID-19 outbreak, and the resultant high loss of work, it seems incredibly important that, this year especially, we reduce any barriers to tenants remaining at their current residences, both from a housing security perspective and as a public health measure. Prevention of evictions is just one piece of this. As the proposed legislation stands, a landlord, as retaliation for non-payment of rent as a result of lost income, will be well within her rights when denying renewal of lease to a June 1st renter. Such a displaced renter would then be burdened with locating a new residence; furnishing the first and last months' rent, security deposit, and a broker's fee; and moving his possessions between residences. Such a situation presents an increased opportunity for transmission of disease as people and their possessions move around, as well as a source of economic strain on residents already feeling the pressure of job loss. I hope that you consider writing into the draft legislature either protections for tenants against refusal to rent, or some form of incentive for landlords to renew leases, should their tenants wish it so.

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Waive Rent for tenants and Issue Grants for private landlords to recoup lost rent

I've spoken with private landlords who are willing to waive their tenants rent if they can receive some form of compensation to cover their loss in rental payments. Example, if a landlord owns 3 properties and waives rent of $1500/mo for 3 tenants, that landlord should receive a grant from the Federal government in the amount of $4500 or have their mortgage payment in the same amount forgiven. In this scenario, the tenants rent is waived and the landlord still gets their money from the Feds. (grant, not a loan)

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