Gov. Baker Vetoes Tenant Right to Purchase and Eviction Record Sealing Bills

by Rich Vetstein on January 16, 2021

in COVID-19, Housing Court, Landlord Tenant Law, Leasing, Massachusetts Real Estate Law, Rental Housing

Rental Property Owners Feared Disruption of Rental Property Market by Allowing Tenants Right to Purchase For-Sale Income Properties

In the wee morning hours of the last legislative session at 4AM, Massachusetts legislators passed House Bill H.B.5250 “An Act enabling partnerships for growth,” which included a controversial provision giving tenants the right to purchase (also knowns as a right of first refusal) rental property when owners put it up for sale. It also included a provision allowing for tenant eviction records to be sealed from public view. Publicly available records have been part of landlords’ application screening tools for many years now. After intense lobbying by the real estate industry, Gov. Baker vetoed both measures.

The Tenant Right to Purchase (TOPA) provision would have given tenants a right of first refusal to purchase for-sale rental and multi-family properties throughout the state, with some limited exceptions. Such a measure has been a disaster in Washington DC with a cottage industry created to essentially shakedown landlords for money and hold up sales. In his veto proclamation, Gov. Baker stated that “these requirements would significantly delay the sale of multifamily homes throughout the Commonwealth, and potentially chill the production of new housing when we desperately need to produce more. Because a viable exit strategy often is critical to a developer’s willingness to undertake a project, I am concerned that making multifamily sales more unpredictable will result in less investment and construction of fewer new rental units.”

The Eviction Sealing measure would have given tenants the ability to seal their eviction records from public view. The problem with this measure is it was too broad, applying to both no-fault cases as well as certain “for cause” cases which may have involved situations with criminal or drug activity or the endangerment of other tenants. As Gov. Baker stated in his veto proclamation, keeping this information secret would cause unnecessary risks. Further, court administrators told the Governor that the measure would cause significant administrative burden, especially now that the courts are dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to process cases remotely for the foreseeable future.

Now that the legislative session has ended, the Legislature would have to re-file and pass these bills again in the upcoming session, which again would be met with the Governor’s veto. I’m not sure they can obtain a veto-proof majority. I’ll keep you updated with any developments.

Along with these vetoes, Gov. Baker did enact his long-sought Housing Choice legislation, which I will update in a future post. This bill contains major changes to the state Zoning Code, Chapter 40A.

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