For some of us, the biggest change of the last ten years is at hand. Housing Court Expansion was signed into law on Monday, July 17th when the Governor approved a $750,000 line item for FY 2018. This means owners and managers in many communities will have fewer eviction cases decided in District Court, or none at all.
In theory, this is a non-issue for members. Landlords with good communication skills avoid court most of the time. When in court, Housing Court offers an advantage over District Court in the form of mediation, of which we recommend everyone take advantage.In practice, without at all meaning to denigrate the hard work or good intentions of Housing Court staff or tenant advocates, MassLandlords has questions about the public benefit of our singularly tough housing policy, enforced most zealously in Housing Courts.
Surveys like the one on page 4 of our July newsletter show that some landlords in some parts of the state vehemently opposed expansion. Our eviction study showed a marked difference in the duration of eviction cases in Housing Court vs District Court.
The average eviction in Massachusetts in 2014 was over 55 days. The longest eviction was 1 year, 3 months, 2 weeks, and two days, and ended in the landlord’s judgment for possession. Cases filed in Housing Court were three times as likely as District Court to exceed 90 days in duration. Despite having the most pro-tenant laws in the nation, landlords in 2014 won unpaid rent cases 99.8% of the time. Delays are needed less to determine who is right and more to give the tenant time to relocate. We seem to have created a long eviction process for lack of better ideas about homelessness prevention.
If our social safety net were up to the task of providing homes for the indigent, eviction could return to the summary process (meaning fast process) it was intended to be. Until then, a major portion of our emergency assistance will continue to be paid for by owners who choose tenants poorly, suffer long evictions, and win uncollectable judgments.
We will do what we can to advocate for better housing policy. In the meantime, choose your tenants wisely.