Chapter 257 of the Acts of 2020

Non-payment Evictions Put On Hold Until Tenant RAFT Applications Are Denied/Approved

Ignoring strong opposition from property owners, the Legislature and Gov. Healey have re-enacted a Covid-19 era tenant protection law (Chapter 257 of the Acts of 2020) which puts an indefinite hold on any non-payment eviction where the tenant has applied for rental assistance (RAFT) until such time as the application is approved or denied. This was part of the FY24 budget signed by Gov. Healey in early August, and fell under the radar of many folks in the rental property community.

As the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied. The net effect of this reenacted policy will be delay, delay, delay for all landlords filing non-payment of rent eviction cases, on top of the already hefty delay caused by the pandemic backlog of cases. When this law was originally put in place in 2020, landlords saw their time in court triple, according to Housing Court statistics. We can expect that to remain the same, or even worse.

Even more problematic, the limit for RAFT assistance in any 12 month period has been reduced to $7,000 — barely enough to cover a few months rent in the Greater Boston area. Most housing providers do not start evictions until tenants are behind several months, so by the time they get to court, arrearages are typically in the many thousands, and often well over the $7,000 cap. Furthermore, understaffed state agencies handling RAFT applications can be hit or miss. During the pandemic, tens of thousands of rental assistance applications “timed out” without explanation. Tenants will be able to further drag out the eviction process, resulting in many landlords being forced to negotiate huge unpaid rent concessions just to gain back possession of their units. I see this in court on a daily basis.

The “new” Chapter 257 law provides as follows:

In an action for summary process for nonpayment of rent, a court having jurisdiction over said action for summary process shall:

(i) grant a continuance for a period as the court may deem just and reasonable if, either at the time the answer is timely filed or on the date the trial is scheduled to commence: (1) the tenancy is being terminated solely for non-payment of rent for a residential dwelling unit; (2) the non-payment of rent was due to a financial hardship; and (3) the defendant demonstrates, to the satisfaction of the court, a pending application for emergency rental assistance; provided, however, the court may consider any meritorious counterclaim brought in said action for summary process;

(ii) issue a stay of execution on a judgment for possession if the requirements in clauses (1) to (3), inclusive, of paragraph (i) are met; and

(iii) not enter a judgment or issue an execution before the application for emergency rental assistance has been approved or denied.

The “new” Chapter 257 only applies to non-payment cases; it does not apply to no-fault, for cause, or post foreclosure cases. The law also contains some language which would allow a landlord to challenge whether the nonpayment of rent is actually due to a legitimate financial hardship. This would most likely require some type of evidentiary hearing. I will keep you informed as to any further developments with the new Chapter 257.

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