Evicting and Renting in Massachusetts during COVID-19: What Rights do Renters Have?

Evicting and Renting in Massachusetts during COVID-19: What Rights do Renters Have?

Sabaa Sharma

Over nine hundred thousand people rent apartments in Massachusetts, and the current unemployment rate in Massachusetts is 15.1%. 


If you are unemployed and worried you won’t make your rent, here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions about rent.


Can my landlord evict me if I don’t pay my rent if I’ve lost my job because of COVID-19? 


It depends.


The CARES Act, passed by Congress on March 27th, placed a 120-day eviction moratorium on all housing that receives government subsidies or federally backed loans.


Note the keywords here: government subsidies or federally backed loans.


According to the National Housing Law Project, over 70% of all US mortgages are federally backed or owned.


The federal moratorium expires July 25th.


The 30% of property owners don’t have a federally backed mortgage - meaning they outright own the property or have another type of loan – could have legally begun eviction proceedings on May 30th


Massachusetts governor, Charlie Baker, signed legislation that puts a moratorium on non-emergency residential evictions and foreclosures amid the pandemic. The bill was passed in the MA State House earlier this April.


What exactly does the moratorium prohibit?

  • Filing an eviction (“summary process”) in court; or
  • Sending you any notice terminating your lease or demanding that you leave your unit
  • Your landlord can still send you other kinds of notices, including a statement of amounts you owe.

No court can:

  • Accept a “summary process” filing for eviction
  • Schedule a court hearing on an eviction
  • Enter a judgement in an eviction case
  • Issue an order (called an “execution”) allowing the landlord to have you and your belongings removed from your unit removed by the sheriff.

How long does the moratorium last?


The moratorium expires 120 days after April 15, 2020, or 45 days after the COVID-19 declaration emergency is lifted, whichever comes first. The governor can postpone this expiration.


What is a Non-Essential Eviction?

The act describes a non-essential eviction as an eviction: (i) for non-payment of rent; (ii) resulting from a foreclosure; (iii) for no fault or no cause; or (iv) for cause that does not involve or include allegations of: (a) criminal activity that may impact the health or safety of other residents, health care workers, emergency personnel, persons lawfully on the subject property or the general public; or (b) lease violations that may impact the health or safety of other residents, health care workers, emergency personnel, persons lawfully on the subject property or the general public.


What happens if I break my lease?


Your lease is a contract. 


When you sign it, you agree to pay for the entire term. Breaking your lease does not make the contractual obligation go away.


If you leave early, your landlord will likely hold you responsible for rent through the end of your lease by filing a collections suit against you.


If your landlord finds a new tenant before your lease ends, however, they can no longer hold you responsible for rent through the end of your lease following the new tenant’s first rent payment.


Can my landlord lock me out during the moratoriums?




If you are covered by the CARES Act, your landlord can’t start eviction proceedings until July 25. The earliest you could lose access to your property would be 30 days after that.


If you are not covered under the CARES Act, your landlord still cannot lock you out until the state-wide moratorium ends. This date is not yet clear.


To lawfully evict a tenant, your landlord must first serve you with a written notice and then file a case with your County’s Court if you do not move out voluntarily. If you do not move out voluntarily, they cannot have you physically removed from the property or change the locks until they have a judgment from the Court. 


If your property is covered by the CARES Act, you cannot be served with a notice to vacate due to nonpayment of rent until the federal moratorium ends on July 25th. 


The timeline of an eviction case will vary depending on the details of the case. 


If you have been locked out, call 311 


What happens after the moratorium? Will I owe my landlord back rent? Can I partially pay?


The unpaid rent will accumulate as debt unless the government issues debt relief or cancellation. You can partially pay your rent and the unpaid amount will be due after the moratorium is lifted.


Does my landlord still have to fix things that are broken even if I haven’t paid rent?

Yes. If the needed repairs are due to a major habitability problem, and if you did not cause the damage, your landlord must fix the issues. 


Some examples of damages that could cause habitability problems might include plumbing issues, broken windows, damages to your heating system, or issues with your hot water.


If you’ve come to an agreement on postponing your rent payments or paying partial rent due to the pandemic, be sure to cite that when discussing damages with your landlord. 


Again, make sure that any agreements you make about fixing the damages are in writing.


Can my landlord raise my rent?


Yes. Your landlord can raise your rent and there is no guarantee for a lease renewal, even with the coronavirus pandemic.

This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.

Sabaa Sharma

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