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Eviction, foreclosure ban set for Baker’s review

Legislature passes measure that halts removals during the pandemic

Governor Charlie Baker updated the media on coronavirus at the State House Thursday.
Governor Charlie Baker updated the media on coronavirus at the State House Thursday.Nicolaus Czarnecki/Pool

A bill that would halt most evictions and foreclosures in Massachusetts during the coronavirus crisis is heading to Governor Charlie Baker’s desk.

After a one-day delay, House lawmakers on Friday gave their final OK to the measure, which blocks landlords from filing new eviction cases or kicking out apartment tenants and many small businesses. Following a similar vote in the Senate earlier this week, the bill now only needs Baker’s signature to become law.

The governor has said he supports the concept of an eviction ban, but left specifics to legislative leaders to hash out. They’ve been doing so since shortly after state housing courts temporarily shut down in March, with a bill ping-ponging between the House and the Senate for several weeks. Lawmakers settled on a final version Tuesday.

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It would stop all eviction proceedings — not just court-ordered evictions themselves — except in cases related to the health or safety of other tenants, for four months or until 45 days after the state of emergency is lifted. It also bans late fees for unpaid rent and requires banks to grant up to 180 days of mortgage forbearance to homeowners who’ve been hurt by the coronavirus crisis.

Tenant groups pushed hard for the measure, saying it would prevent vulnerable renters from being pushed into the street during a broad public health and economic crisis. And they hailed the vote Friday.

“We’re really pleased this has passed and we’re eagerly awaiting the governor to sign it,” said Lisa Owens, executive director of tenant advocacy group City Life/Vida Urbana. “Thousands of families are depending on this level of stability.”

Landlord organizations said they, too, want to stop evictions at the moment. But they said the full ban went too far and does too little to protect small landlords who won’t get the same mortgage relief as single-family homeowners. The group MassLandlords has said the final bill has “major flaws,” and has questioned whether it may violate the state constitution.

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With the Legislature meeting in informal session, any single lawmaker had the power to block its passage, and on Thursday one did. When the measure came up for a vote in the House, Representative Shawn Dooley, a Republican from Norfolk County, used a procedural motion to stop it temporarily.

On Friday Dooley issued a statement citing a number of concerns, including the potential impact on small landlords, especially if tenants interpret the eviction ban as an excuse not to pay rent.

“While the proponents will say that most people will continue to pay their rent, the reality is that many will not,” he wrote. “We as a Commonwealth are almost encouraging them not to pay.”

But then Dooley said he would back off, acknowledging that “this bill is strongly supported by most of my colleagues and is being pushed hard by the Governor,” and that he wouldn’t stand in its way. It was subsequently passed by the House unanimously.

Now it’s on to Baker. A spokeswoman said the governor will “carefully review the final legislation."


Tim Logan can be reached at timothy.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.