Boston’s City Council overwhelmingly approved a set of regulations Wednesday that could make it harder for landlords to evict tenants without just cause, while giving city officials better ways to track how many housing evictions are occurring and where.
Called the Jim Brooks Community Stabilization Act — named after the late social justice advocate — the measure would require landlords to notify the city whenever they move to evict a tenant, for whatever reason. The city and landlord would then have to alert the tenant to his or her housing rights, such as the ability to appeal to a state Housing Court, and the tenant could be directed to advocacy groups.
Advocates called the new proposal a much-needed tool to help the city gather evidence on housing evictions amid concerns that landlords are increasingly speculating on market rates and boosting rents beyond what residents can afford, then evicting them when they can’t pay. The only way for the city to currently track evictions is by monitoring Housing Court records, and that can only happen if a tenant files a claim.
“There is no doubt residents in Boston are being priced out and in some cases kicked out,” said Councilor Michael F. Flaherty, chairman of the council’s Committee on Government Operations, which held a lengthy hearing on the matter earlier this year and sought input from tenants’ rights’ group, landlords, and real estate associations.
“It’s preventing displacement, providing education to the tenants, and notifying the city,” he said of the new measure. “We want to stop this displacement . . . but in order to do so, we need to find out what’s happening and who’s doing it.”
The measure was passed under what is known as a Home Rule Petition to the state Legislature because the city needs state approval to enforce a provision of the Stabilization Act that would vacate any eviction that is not handed out in accordance with the new regulations.
But Councilors Josh Zakim and Frank Baker cosponsored a separate city ordinance Wednesday, called an Eviction Data Collection ordinance, that would still require landlords to turn over eviction plans to city officials. That way, the city could still collect the eviction data, even if state lawmakers do not approve the enforcement mechanism.
The ordinance still requires final council approval following another subcommittee hearing. But Zakim said he expects it will make its way through the council swiftly because the debate has already taken place.
“This is something we can do, and do quickly, to find out where these things are happening and where we can provide service,” Zakim said.
The Home Rule Petition was passed by a 10 to 3 vote, with Councilors Bill Linehan, Sal LaMattina, and Timothy McCarthy dissenting.Linehan said he opposed the measure because the state already has laws that govern evictions.
Sheila Dillon, the city’s chief of housing and director of neighborhood development, said the ability to gather data on evictions will help officials move swiftly to offer services to tenants, or reach out to landlords. She said the administration had initially proposed forcing landlords to spell out why a tenant was being evicted, and only nine reasons would be considered lawful, such as failure to pay rent.
“They will be informed by any landlord of their rights, and that’s really important because tenants do have a lot of rights in this state and they need to be allowed to exercise them,” she said.
Dillon also said the ability to collect data on evictions will allow the city to “create new programs, create new protections.”
“Right now, we’ve really been hindered by not having good real-time data, and so we’re getting information about evictions after they’ve happened, so this is really going to help us with our work,” she said.