Healey Signs RAFT Eviction Delays Back into Law; Ignores MassLandlords Public Testimony

By Kimberly Rau, MassLandlords, Inc.

Ignoring public testimony that such actions would hurt both housing providers and tenants, Governor Maura Healey signed a reinstatement of Chapter 257 of the Acts of 2020 into law this August. The reinstatement of Chapter 257 was part of the FY2024 budget signed by the governor on Aug. 9, 2023. This change is not being properly funded, which means it is going to harm housing providers and renters. It will create huge arrears for tenants, and will incentivize landlords to litigate all the way through to an actual execution of eviction.

A large digital traffic sign sits on a street in front of buildings in a city. It is nighttime. In big orange letters, the sign reads “Expect Delays.”

Heading to court for a summary process? Expect your waiting time to triple: Gov. Healey has signed Chapter 257 of the Acts of 2020 into law, which puts evictions on hold until any RAFT assistance is approved or denied. (Image License: Unsplash)

Section 64 of the budget bill for Fiscal Year 2024 amends Chapter 239 of the General Laws to state that tenants who are facing eviction for non-payment, but have applied for rental assistance, will have their cases paused until their assistance application is approved or denied. MassLandlords strongly urged the legislature not support this unless they were prepared to allocate more funds to allow housing assistance programs such as Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) to run as intended. If rental assistance and its administration remain underfunded, pausing evictions is actively harmful. Section 64 makes no mention of any additional funds for RAFT or similar programs.

The amendment does not mention a time limit on how long an eviction case may be put on hold. It simply says that the court may grant a continuance “for a period as the court may deem just and reasonable.”

Nor does the amendment mention what happens if a housing assistance application is “timed out,” which happened constantly with RAFT applications in 2020 and remains a problem today. It only states that the court shall “not enter a judgment or issue an execution before the application…has been approved or denied.”

Court Time Tripled; RAFT a Mess in 2020 and Beyond

When Chapter 257 of the Acts of 2020 was first enacted, landlords saw their time in court triple as a result. Meanwhile, renters and housing providers alike were stuck fighting their way through a convoluted system to apply for RAFT.

During 2020 and 2021, tens of thousands of applications for RAFT “timed out” without explanation. When we tried to get those records to see what had happened, we were blocked by the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (EOHLC; then known as the Department of Housing and Community Development, or DHCD), who claimed that they could not provide us that information, even after we sued them for it. Thousands of applications were lost, with seemingly no accountability for either renter or landlord. Our initial case was dismissed, but we have appealed. Litigation is a slow process through the courts, but we are prepared to take this as far as the Supreme Judicial Court if necessary. It’s that important.

By 2023, the state had started using a new centralized portal for RAFT applications, but those who used it still expressed frustration with the system. Waiting times were still long, sometimes months instead of weeks, and applications were still getting kicked back. Some landlords reported better experiences, others still viewed the program in a negative light.

Our solution was simple: We implored the state to do the right thing and provide more funding for RAFT and programs like it. We asked them not to put a Band-Aid on housing problems by stalling evictions without increasing rental assistance limits.

Why Doesn’t the State Care About Actually Fixing the Housing Crisis?

If the state truly cared for those who rent in Massachusetts, they would be increasing rental assistance. If a renter is facing eviction for non-payment, they likely owe their landlord at least $1,500, and that’s if the rent is at the statewide average and they’re only behind by a month. Now add on months of waiting for RAFT. How much will they owe by the time their application is approved? What if it now exceeds RAFT’s household cap for assistance, which is down to $7,000 in a 12-month period?

If RAFT funds will not prevent homelessness, it is unlawful to approve them. So, renters now end up thousands in debt for owed rent, and they’re losing their home. If we are going to drag this process out for months, we need to take care of the people who are already struggling to pay for their housing.

Furthermore, if the state really cared about fixing housing issues, they would allow landlords and tenants to go to mediation while applications were pending instead of putting everything on hold. We know mediation can keep two-thirds to 90% of summary process filings from turning into physical evictions, so why are we being prevented from accessing mediation?

The law now reads, "[a] court having jurisdiction over said action for summary process shall not enter a judgment." There is no exception for mediated agreements for judgment.

We are in a housing crisis. It’s easy to point the finger at landlords and pretend every housing provider is a greedy slumlord waiting for a chance to evict their renters. In reality, eviction is expensive and time-consuming even without putting it on hold for a sluggish and inept process like RAFT. No one wants to go to court if they can avoid it. No one wants to have to find a new tenant if they can keep the renters they have, and no one gets joy from seeing someone struggle to afford housing.

The state could help, but this Band-Aid that comes without a fiscal safety net isn’t helping anyone. It’s simply putting off the inevitable, which no one can afford.

Housing providers are advised to consider avoiding court if possible. A private payment plan or settlement agreement to move out will likely result in better outcomes for all. Consult with an attorney before taking any action that could affect your rights.

2 Responses to Healey Signs RAFT Eviction Delays Back into Law; Ignores MassLandlords Public Testimony

  1. No name says:

    This is an illegal taking of property by the state government. The legislature failed to approve a budget on time, causing multiple RAFT issues. Now our elected officials think small landlords should pay for their irresponsibility.

    This will just make it harder for renters to find homes unless they are financially very, very secure.

  2. Chris caney says:

    I feel sorry for landlords. they have bills, utility, Property taxes, etc. you rent, you pay. we have a bleeding heart governor who will do for one while screwing the other. Healey should be kicked out of office. her liberal mind is unhealthy, negatively effects working middle class, what’s left of them.

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