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In Mass., dozens of illegal evictions attempted, despite pandemic moratoriums, Healey says

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey's office has secured the withdrawal of almost 50 evictions that were filed against tenants in court before the state law went into effect.Steven Senne/Associated Press/file

The state’s top law enforcement official has stopped dozens of illegal evictions in Massachusetts in recent weeks amid the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities said this week.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office said it has received about 15 complaints of illegal evictions since a statewide moratorium went into effect, and has secured the withdrawal of almost 50 evictions that were filed against tenants in court before the state law went into effect.

Her office said this week that some of the unlawful actions involved so-called self-help evictions, where a landlord tries to circumvent the court process and attempts to forcibly remove a tenant by locking them out or shutting off utilities.

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Prior to the enactment of the statewide pause to evictions, officials from Healey’s office monitored the housing court for actions against tenants that violated federal pandemic legislation aimed at protecting renters during the crisis. The office, according to a spokeswoman, sent cease and desist letters to the lawyers who were violating that law, leading to the withdrawals of dozens of the claims. Many of the tenants who were at risk of being kicked out of their homes live in Greater Boston and are now able to stay in their residences during the public health crisis, the office said.

Reports of alleged violations since the state’s evictions pause went into effect have included allegations of landlords threatening to change locks, property managers using a relatively minor infraction of a tenant’s lease — such as the blocking of a fire escape — to boot the tenant out by saying the safety risk falls under an exemption to the new law, and threats to report a tenant to immigration authorities if they do not vacate the property, according to authorities.

The reports came from across the state, with allegations of attempted unlawful evictions in Hyannis, Plymouth, Quincy, Lynnfield, Worcester, Adams, and Peabody, Healey’s office said.

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A Healey spokeswoman said in an e-mail the office has successfully mediated “many of these complaints by reaching out to landlords to ensure they know their obligations under the new law, and encouraging them to work with tenants to reach an agreement that works for both parties — whether it’s a temporarily reduced rent or a payment plan.”

Government officials at the local, state, and federal levels have taken to steps to prevent renters from getting kicked out of their homes during the public health emergency brought on by novel coronavirus.

In March, the Boston Housing Authority said it would stop all “nonessential” evictions during the crisis, and major landlords and real estate groups in the city agreed to halt most evictions.

On the state level, Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill last month blocking all eviction and foreclosure proceedings in the state for the duration of the coronavirus emergency.

A federal pandemic stimulus package known as the CARES Act also halted all evictions involving federally subsidized housing.

The attorney general’s office said that if tenants find themselves in an emergency predicament, including situations that involve violence, threats, harassment, destruction of property, or trespassing, they should call local police. Otherwise, tenants can report a wrongful eviction by calling 617-727-8400.


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.