Boston: It’s rent control

‘Just-cause’ eviction puts up huge obstacles to all rent increases.

Most owners won’t even try. That’s rent control.

Small Property Owner Association

SPOA will fight this rent control petition with all its strength

Landlords and property owners of Boston: Don’t be fooled. A home-rule petition, if approved by the Boston City Council and passed by the State Legislature, would require a “just cause” for each and every eviction. But it’s rent control.

Drafted by Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, the petition was sent to Boston Councilors and forwarded, on request, to SPOA. The petition, if enacted, would apply to all rental properties except owner-occupied four units or fewer. Once the petition takes hold, the city’s tenants could be mobilized to demand its expansion to more properties.

This petition is the fourth attempt by Boston tenant advocates to bring back rent control. The three previous attempts occurred in the late 1990s, not long after rent control was outlawed by a statewide vote in 1994. SPOA defeated all these bring-back attempts.

The controlled owners, of course, are against it. And non-controlled owners will oppose it once they know that assessments and property taxes on controlled properties will go down and their own property taxes will go up substantially, as they did during rent control in the 1970s and 1980s.

Cover Screenshot of Boston Home Rule Petition Fall 2015 for Just Cause Evictions

Screenshot of the cover of the home rule petition for just cause eviction Fall 2015.

Resurrecting the old Rent Control Board

Tenant advocates claim it’s not rent control, but the petition would require all evictions, including all rent increases, to be approved by Boston’s Rental Housing Resource Center (RHRC), the city’s former Rent Control Board. Only eight reasons are considered just causes for eviction, but not paying rent must be “habitual” and damaging one’s unit must be “substantial.” In other words, those just causes are very tightly defined.

But the petition is not about these eight reasons. It’s about controlling rents. Officially, landlords can “voluntarily” set their rents. But every rent increase must go through so-called “mediation” supervised by the RHRC. The petition fills the mediation process with obstacles so difficult and costly that most owners will rarely try to raise their rents. That’s rent control by bureaucratic obstruction.

A mediation process with difficult obstacles = rent control

Obstacle 1  Many notices are required for a landlord to terminate a tenancy or raise a rent, and failure to do any one of the notices or doing any one of them wrong can result in dismissal of the landlord’s request to end a tenancy or raise the rent. Result: no eviction or no rent increase = rent control.

Obstacle 2  All notices must be sent to the RHRC, the rent board. The board is then required in turn to notify all tenant advocacy groups in Boston of that landlord’s intentions. These groups, in other words, are invited into every eviction or rent increase process. It will be one landlord against many tenants and advocates. If the landlord backs down = rent control.

Obstacle 3  In filing any request, the landlord must list all his or her properties. Knowing about the eviction or the rent increase request, these advocacy groups will be able to contact all a landlord’s tenants and rally them to fight all evictions and all rent increases in that landlord’s properties. What landlord wants a huge battle against all his/her tenants? Landlord backs down = rent control.

Obstacle 4  The landlord must go through mediation, and his or her agreement to accept a lower rent increase (or none) is supposedly “voluntary.” But there is no time limit on mediation. It can go on and on and on and on – and it will. The tenants will keep it going. With no end in sight, the rent increase is effectively stopped = rent control.

Obstacle 5  Failure to follow other procedures can result in a fine equal to three months’ rent paid to the tenant or a fine “not less than $1,000 to be paid to the City of Boston.” There’s no upper limit on the fine. There’s also no appeal procedure. The RHRC is the final authorty. Fear of the RHRC will deter many landlords = rent control.

Obstacle 6  Eviction for a “just” cause – nonpayment of rent, damaging a unit, illegal behavior, denying access to landlord, destroying peace and quiet, to recover a unit for a family member, and other “just” causes – must be individually reviewed and approved by the RHRC. The RHRC will undoubtedly hold adversarial hearings on all eviction requests, with tenants arguing vociferously why the alleged reason for the eviction is not the real reason and not a “just” reason – so they can avoid eviction. Evictions will be very hard to get approved, deterring owners from even trying. During the old rent control, one tenant group was called the Eviction Free Zone. That says it all.

14 references to high rents shows it’s all about controlling rents

The petition and its advocates never say “rent control.” Instead, they call it “just-cause eviction.” But the intention is to control rents. Here’s proof. The preamble, which explains why the petition should pass, contains 14 references to high rents and non-affordability and says nothing about the eight “just causes” for eviction that are supposedly what it’s all about. Here are those references:

“Unaffordable,” “economically unequal,” “rent burdened,” “raising rents,” “budget cuts eliminated 1,500 rental subsidies,” “profit-driven development,” “the resulting pressures cause rent increases,” “rents and costs of living have risen,” “in Roxbury, the average rent,” “to afford this rent,” “rent burdened [again],” “are not affordable,” “increased rents,” and finally: “The City of Boston is facing an affordable housing emergency.”

With all these references to high rents in the preamble, does anyone have any doubt that this home-rule petition is intended to control rents?

With all these obstacles, landlords won’t even try

All these obstacles are how tenanta can viciously fight all rent increases large and small and all evictions, and why landlords will simply give up and not seek rent increases or evictions no matter how justified.

That equals de facto rent control. With rent increases so very difficult, no capital improvements will be done, the buildings will steadily deteriorate and steadily lose even more value than would already be caused just by imposing this “just cause eviction” bureaucracy.

No eviction of elderly, disabled, families with K-12 children, or catastrophically ill after five years

It gets even worse. All elderly, disabled, and catastrophically ill tenants who have lived in their unit for at least five years can never be evicted, no matter what their behavior may be: damage the place, make loud noise, not pay rent – too bad, Mr. Landlord. This provision will greatly discourage renting to these people.

Moreover, if an owner wants a unit for a family member and if the eviction for that purpose is granted, no other tenants in the building can be forced to leave for another family member. In other words, believe it or not, only that one unit in the building can be used for family members. Who owns the building, you or your tenants?

Property tax burden shifted onto non-controlled owners

With all the obstacles imposed on rent increases and evictions, all controlled properties will lose substantial value, so their property tax assessments and their tax bills will go down. That revenue that the city loses must be made up. The property tax burden will shift to all exempt properties, who will see their property tax bills increase substantially.

If tenant advocates get this petition passed, they will have more power and will seek full-scale rent control. They will try to grab more properties to control – maybe yours. We must stop this petition from passing.

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