Council could vote to give tenants protections against eviction
The City Council is poised Wednesday to adopt regulations that could make it harder for landlords to evict tenants without just cause, such as to boost rent.
The council will vote on a proposed Jim Brooks Stabilization Act that would require landlords who own more than seven units to notify the city whenever they move to evict a tenant, for whatever reason.
The city would then be tasked with notifying the tenants of their housing rights, specifically their right to challenge the eviction in Boston Housing Court.
The act is named for Jim Brooks, a social rights and housing justice activist who died last year at age 70.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration supports the proposal, though the initiative still needs the approval of the Legislature that would give the city the authority to enforce the act. The enforcement power would allow the city to have vacated any eviction that is not carried out in accordance with the new regulations.
Supporters say the new regulations would not cut into a property owner’s rights to evict a tenant for just cause, but they would help tenants better understand their housing rights. They say the new regulations could help stave off displacements that occur when “corporate landlords” increase rents without proper notice — a tempting prospect in a booming housing market and a contributing factor to gentrification.
“Corporate landlords . . . are coming out cleaning out buildings for no fault, no reason,” said Darnell Johnson, coordinator of Boston’s Right to the City, a coalition of community advocates and groups that pushed for the regulations. “This will slow down the rampant evictions we’re seeing.”
Currently, the city has no way of tracking evictions because tenants – and their landlords – do not always report it.
The city does track cases that go before the Housing Court, but that only includes cases in which a tenant files a complaint.
Under the new regulations, tenants will be referred to advocacy organizations, which could help them seek relief from courts, or attempt to negotiate new leases.
Two-thirds of Boston residents are renters, according to the Right to the City coalition.
The Stabilization Act, which was first proposed to the City Council earlier this year, was stripped of an initial proposal that would have required landlords to explain the reason for the eviction to the city.
The initial proposal was called Just Cause Eviction legislation, and it named only nine lawful reasons a landlord could cite for evicting a tenant, such as nonpayment of rent.
Early opponents of the proposal, including several city councilors, argued that the city had no authority to define just causes for evictions, which are set by state law and governed by state housing courts.
Councilor Michael F. Flaherty, chairman of the council’s Committee on Government Operations, recommended the full council pass the regulations.
“Requiring the landlord to inform tenants of their rights will serve as a mechanism to stabilize neighborhoods and prevent displacement,” Flaherty said in a letter to the council.
Mary L. Wright, 73, who works with the housing rights advocacy organization City Life/Vida Urbana, said the regulations would help unsuspecting people put in precarious positions as she was 10 years ago.
Wright, who retired from the Gillette razor company in South Boston, had lived in the same Roxbury two-bedroom apartment with her husband for 20 years, and had been paying an affordable rent.
But then, around 2005, a new property owner attempted to raise the rent by more than $1,000 a month without notice, and threatened to evict Wright and her husband when they said they couldn’t afford it.
“I didn’t know we had rights,” she said.
She met with representatives from City Life — and subsequently met Brooks through his advocacy — and was able to negotiate scaled back, incremental rent increases of $100 every two years.
“I was one of those people who didn’t know anything about how you could go about getting help, when you run into these problems,” said Wright.