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Baker signs bill blocking evictions during coronavirus crisis

New law prohibits landlords from filing most cases.

Governor Charlie Baker said Monday that “by pausing evictions and foreclosures, we hope to provide homeowners and renters with additional relief and protections during this difficult time.”
Governor Charlie Baker said Monday that “by pausing evictions and foreclosures, we hope to provide homeowners and renters with additional relief and protections during this difficult time.”Sam Doran/Pool

Evictions are officially on hold in Massachusetts.

Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill Monday blocking all eviction and foreclosure proceedings in the state for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.

The measure, which won final passage in the Legislature on Friday, would prohibit landlords from filing eviction cases, unless the health or safety of other tenants is at risk, for the next four months or until 45 days after the coronavirus state of emergency is lifted. It would also protect homeowners from being foreclosed upon and keep many small businesses from being evicted from their storefronts if they’re unable to pay rent.

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“Many of the Commonwealth’s residents are facing economic hardship due to the impacts of COVID-19," Baker said in a statement. “By pausing evictions and foreclosures, we hope to provide homeowners and renters with additional relief and protections during this difficult time. We thank our colleagues in the Legislature for their careful work in crafting and passing this bill.”

Housing advocates pushed hard for the bill, saying it would prevent vulnerable tenants from being pushed out into the street during a public health crisis. Landlord groups said their members don’t want to evict people right now, either. But they argued the bill went too far in prohibiting them from even launching eviction cases — which often take months to adjudicate in court — and have said they’ll consider a legal challenge to overturn it.

Most evictions, which require a judge’s order in Massachusetts, have been on hold since mid-March, when the state housing courts closed, though more than 600 new cases have been filed in that time. Tenant groups and housing advocates cheered the stronger protections the new, longer-term, measure includes.

“We commend and thank Governor Baker for taking swift action,” said the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, one of numerous groups that had lobbied for the moratorium. “[This law] will protect tenants from evictions and provide much needed relief to families throughout the Commonwealth.”

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House and Senate lawmakers spent several weeks trading ideas on specifics of the bill, before reaching a compromise last week that would block all filings but allow landlords to tap tenants’ last-month’s rent to cover costs if needed. It was briefly derailed when Representative Shawn Dooley used a procedural tactic to block a House vote, but Dooley backed down the next day, citing, in part, Baker’s support of the bill, and it passed. Monday afternoon, Baker signed it into law.


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