COVID-19 Coronavirus Landlord-Tenant Laws, Regulations, and Procedures

Landlord tenant laws and procedures in Massachusetts are being amended, suspended, or changed in response to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic. This page will contain all available resources and links.

This page is being updated daily.

There are still many unanswered questions and the situation is changing frequently. We will add text as we verify and prepare information.

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Coronavirus: What Landlords Need to Know

The new coronavirus pandemic is affecting landlords and their renters in several ways. And while we still don’t know many details about the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), or the resulting pneumonia that the virus delivers to many people upon exposure, there are steps landlords can take now to help mitigate the pandemic’s effects on their tenants and bottom lines.

A close-up view of the novel coronavirus molecule (CDC/Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS)

Physical health, for you and your tenants, is the number one objective. Because no vaccine is available to prevent COVID-19, nor will be for some time, it is essential that landlords take precautions to prevent infection. The best practice to prevent COVID-19 infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is frequent cleaning with disinfectant of common touch points: doorknobs, handles, railings, counter surfaces, tables, switches, faucets, flushers, remote controls and anything else that people touch throughout the day. Get in the habit of spraying these common touch points with a mist of sanitizing solution through the day as a precautionary measure.

World Graph

Our World In Data has made their graph embeddable here. This graph shows total confirmed cases, not active cases. Some countries have many recoveries.

Cleaning

When source of transmission is known, it has always been person-to-person contact. But it cannot be repeated too often: The coronavirus can live on surfaces. The half-life is such that a wet sneeze might be able to live for up to nine days on some surfaces (metal, glass, Formica, porcelain, plastic). Smaller amounts will degrade and become non-infectious more quickly. A lab study detected measurable amounts of virus on dry steel and plastic after three days. During the degradation time, the virus is capable of infecting people with COVID-19 when they touch the surface, as they may then ingest the virus by touching their mouth, nose or eyes. COVID-19 is much more powerful than a regular flu, with mortality many times higher. However, the coronavirus can be easily wiped away in twenty seconds with scrubbing and rinsing, or killed in minutes using household disinfectants. (In the event your local stores are sold out of brand disinfectants, the CDC recommends using a diluted bleach solution combining 5 tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water; or 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water. IMPORTANT: Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser.)

Also worth repeating: get in the habit of washing your hands thoroughly, for at least 20 seconds, every time after you touch something (e.g., faucet handles, the toilet flusher, subway and bus handles, light switches, silverware, oven and microwave buttons). Be sure to scrub between fingers and thumbs, preferably using soap. In the absence of soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol content. If hands are visibly dirty, always wash them with soap and water.

Washing hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water is one of the most effective ways to ward off coronavirus infection (image by Marco Verch).

Wash often, up to several times per waking hour, and every time after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing; using the bathroom; eating or preparing food; contact with pets or animals; or caring for another person, such as a child.

World Health Organization Hand Washing Technique

Check in on Seniors for Their Health

Seniors are statistically the people most vulnerable to the dangers of COVID-19. Fatalities from the virus are highest among people aged 85 and older, according to CDC statistics, followed by those aged 65¬–84.

But checking in on seniors – renters, friends, neighbors, family – during this pandemic can make a big impact on their overall health. Checking in in this case, however, means utilizing methods other than face-to-face contact (unless it’s a raised-voice conversation from their front porch to the sidewalk): Internet, smartphone and landline telephone.

Checking in on seniors via Internet, smartphone or landline telephone can improve their mental, physical and emotional health substantially.

Seniors’ difficulties in this pandemic may be compounded by several factors that further isolate them. A higher percentage of seniors have no Internet service or do not use computers, for example. Also, many seniors live alone, far away from family and with limited social networks.

For seniors, this period of social distancing and isolation can result in depression and loneliness. This may trigger serious long-term health effects, exacerbate chronic maladies and increase the likelihood of detrimental behaviors such as such as smoking or abusing alcohol. And some seniors might potentially miss or misunderstand important health directives that could endanger them and others if not followed correctly.

Landlords with senior renters should follow the advised protocols here to establish and maintain communication by means other than in-person contact. For tenants with email or texting capabilities, sending a note online is simple enough. Group email chains or texting groups might help them feel more like part of a community.

Those who don’t use computers or smart phones may prefer the old-fashioned landline telephone. But even in those cases, you could set up and include them in a phone chain or conference call for a group conversation with other seniors and friends. It might go a long way toward helping seniors feel less isolated.

Online Options for Seniors’ Mental, Physical, Emotional Health

If at all possible, having Internet access is the most optimal way for seniors to weather this period of mass isolation. The Internet isn’t just a way for seniors to stay in touch with people while avoiding physical contact, offering instant messaging, email, streaming services and other means of communication. It also offers countless sources of information for keeping apprised; exercise videos, including stretching and yoga sessions, which will help maintain muscle and balance, reduce stress and protect from falling; guided meditations and music for relaxing; and enough movies to outlast any pandemic.

Many seniors also use Internet subscription services to access life-saving fall monitoring devices, interact with smart home assistants like the Amazon Echo, automatically program their home thermostats, set home security controls and access other safety and convenience options.

Helping Seniors Get Online

Seniors already using the Internet can be easily guided and introduced to new online services. A majority of seniors, even if they don’t use a computer, are using smartphones. This period of social distancing may be the time for them to learn about the many ways their phones can assist them.

During check-ins, you might assess what services they are using and recommend those they could benefit from. Of particular value now are smartphone apps for food delivery, such as Amazon Fresh, Instacart and Peapod.

If you know seniors who subscribe to a cable service for their television or telephone, or have Wi-Fi in their homes for smartphone use, you might assist them in contacting their cable subscriber to upgrade their service to include Internet, at least temporarily.

Several Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are offering low-cost services (as low as $10 per month) for seniors, typically with no monthly contract required, as a coronavirus contingency. Check service providers in your area for their discount services for seniors. In Massachusetts, that likely means Comcast and Spectrum, but several local ISPs are also offering discounts.

Non-Internet Alternatives

If seniors you know do not have computers or smartphones, or simply won’t or can’t use online services, but will still use their landline telephone: help them. Be available to take and place online delivery orders, explain safety procedures, talk through an exercise or stretching routine, be a companion, and provide numbers of places to call for delivery orders.

As a last resort, if you can’t reach a senior by phone and you feel a need to check in on them in person, exercise extreme caution. Remain separated if possible, communicating from each side of a screen door, for example, or while standing at least 10 feet apart. Keep your distance and have absolutely no contact. Wash your hands before and after your visit, and try not to touch anything near the entrance to their residence.

If you receive no response to knocks on the door or repeated phone calls to seniors you know, you might report this to the local police, or request a police wellness visit. Depending on the municipality and its police department coronavirus polices, they may request more information from you, advise various actions or meet you at the senior’s residence, equipped with CDC-recommended PPE, for a check-in.

Even before the new coronavirus shuttered businesses and sequestered society behind doors, seniors as a demographic were already feeling isolated, many lacking regular companionship. That feeling increases among those experiencing mental or physical illnesses, hearing loss or poverty.

A simple, periodic check-in during this pandemic can provide an important boost to seniors’ physical, mental and emotional health and help them weather this period of isolation.

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Communicate with Your Tenants About Coronavirus Health

Especially for renters who do not have Internet access, who may still be unaware:

It’s in every landlord’s interest to have healthy tenants, and all landlords, from multi-unit property managers to single dwelling owners, should check in with their tenants specifically about coronavirus, for several reasons.

Knowledge and information are the best defenses against the spread of coronavirus, so sharing what you know with your tenants and learning from them will help everyone. Remind them that they should also be disinfecting surfaces in their units as frequently as possible, especially in common areas of multi-tenant rentals. For those who share bathrooms and kitchens, it is vital that they know not to share towels, including hand and dishtowels, and to wash their hands thoroughly after every single use of common areas and devices. This includes remote controls, game controls, stereo knobs, etc.

Strongly consider providing tenants with disposable wipes to keep in common areas for wiping surfaces after each use. You might also provide bottles of disinfectant to promote spraying surfaces often.

Work with tenants to create and/or update emergency contact lists (recommended by the CDC and Massachusetts Department of Public Health) with contact information of two to five people (at least two local) in case of illness or other emergency.

Stay in touch with tenants and let them know to contact their landlord or property manager if they become ill or are diagnosed with or suspect they have COVID-19.

The foremost symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • fever (i.e., temperature of 100.4o F (37.8o C) or greater) using an oral thermometer
  • cough
  • shortness of breath

These symptoms may appear within two to 14 days after exposure.

In the event you or your employees need to enter rental units, be careful not to touch anything. Do not eat or drink or bring drinks into the residence, remain at least six feet from other people, and wash your hands immediately after.

Coronavirus Contingencies

If tenants or employees suspect they have COVID-19 symptoms, they should stay at home and call their healthcare provider (do not travel to healthcare providers or hospitals, it risks infecting others) and follow or await instructions from healthcare providers.

Employees should know not to report to work if they display any illness symptoms or suspect they are sick. If an employee arrives at the workplace displaying symptoms or becomes sick during a shift, that person should be immediately separated from other employees and sent home (not using public transportation).

If employees or tenants do not have a regular healthcare provider, contact the nearest doctor’s office or hospital, explain the situation and seek guidance. Alternatively, call the Division of Epidemiology and Immunization (617-983-6800), explain the situation and seek guidance.

If an individual requires immediate medical assistance, call 911 for an ambulance and inform the dispatcher and emergency personnel of the person’s symptoms.

Guidelines for Property Managers

Employees and property managers overseeing multi-unit buildings and complexes need to be especially vigilant around coronavirus protocols. They must be direct and clear in imparting protocols to renters, using prominent signage, email notices and other communications as needed.

Cancel any resident gatherings in common areas, such as meet-and-greets and other social events. Restrict laundry area usage to one unit at a time to avoid in-person contact. Increase daily cleaning of common areas, taking special precautions to wipe down commonly touched surfaces.

Check in frequently with elderly residents and anyone who is at risk. Discuss a communication plan for elderly and at-risk tenants and any tenants who are sick.

Update all tenants’ contact information and add pertinent emergency contacts.

Maintenance during the Coronavirus Pandemic

All non-essential maintenance should be deferred. Some municipalities (e.g., Worcester) have already stopped sanitary code enforcement except for immediate dangers to health and safety.

Some daily maintenance will have to continue to retain a hygienic environment in multi-unit rentals. Trash disposal is one of those jobs. Managers should treat all trash from rental units as hazardous waste to be disposed of with extreme caution.

Managers who are called and need to enter units for specific emergency maintenance jobs must be sure to follow employee guidelines of washing hands before and after entering the unit, disinfecting all surfaces touched, and keeping their distance from residents. Non-emergency jobs should be deferred.

The fewer people who need to enter rental units, the better.

Defer any maintenance jobs—e.g., routine inspections, filter swaps, gutter cleaning, caulking and grout filling—that are not of immediate necessity for at least 30 days, pending further information.

If professional subcontractors are needed, establish a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and clearly communicate it to contractors entering the rental premises. The SOP should include at least: meeting with the property manager or owner before entering any rental units; washing hands before entering units, perhaps wearing latex gloves; disinfecting any touched surfaces; and remaining at least six feet away from any residents or others on the property (no shaking hands!).

If contractors display any signs of COVID-19 or other illness, send them away from the property and reschedule for another time or with another contractor, again following SOP.

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Working with Prospective Tenants

Business must go on as much as possible, and even in a pandemic people will be seeking places to live. The same guidelines for subcontractors and other visitors should be followed when working with prospective tenants who want to visit a multi-unit complex.

Pre-screen any potential renters before showing units to determine if they have recently traveled or are showing signs of sickness. This can also be used to qualify the prospects as viable tenants with immediate housing needs. Limit showings in common areas and minimize exposure to other residents. Open all doors before a showing and close doors afterward to avoid touching of handles and doorknobs. Instruct prospects to look only, not to touch any surfaces, not to use bathrooms or faucets inside rentals, and not to have any food or drinks inside rental units.

As always, be sure to adhere to Fair Housing laws. Disinfect all areas of the rental unit after showings.

Can I show a rented unit?

As of March 23, legally, yes. Recommendation: do not show rented units. Accept vacancy as a cost of doing business. Get pictures or video for virtual tours. Do not bring a parade of strangers into an occupied household, you could experience liability lawsuits afterwards for spreading infection if anyone were to become ill.

Are there rental agreement clauses I should add?

Yes, we are recommending members utilize our optional “90 day delay in occupancy” clause to encourage landlords and renters to sign rental agreements even when move-in dates remain uncertain for the indefinite future. See Optional Clauses AD. DELAY IN OCCUPANCY. We are grateful to Attorney Jordana Roubicek Greenman of JRGLegal and Attorney Richard Vetstein of the Massachusetts Real Estate Law Blog for this contribution.

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Evictions and Nonpayment

Federal Eviction Moratorium on “Covered Properties”

Updated March 31: the Federal CARES Act (stimulus package) may have ended all Massachusetts late fees and nonpayment filings through July 25, and thereafter changed the notice period for nonpayment from 14 days to 30 days.

The language appears to apply overbroadly to all properties that might “in any way” benefit from the existence of federal government involvement in the mortgage market, including most if not all residential and commercial mortgages.

The language clearly forbids all notices and filings, rather than levies of execution (forced move-outs) for 120 days, and then enacts a 30 day notice period for nonpayment (overriding the Massachusetts 14 day notice). There is no visible exception for renters who continue to earn income through the crisis.

The Violence Against Women Act is believed to extend this to prohibition to all Section 8, SSI, and SSDI units even when the property is owned free and clear (not mortgaged). We are still researching.

The federal eviction moratorium would supercede the reasonable and nuanced Massachusetts court approach described below. We were still accepting filings in Massachusetts. We were hearing only emergency cases before April 21st (expected to be extended).

As of March 31, we were still reading through the 800 pages of the federal CARES Act. We still need to research federal definitions of the terms enacted. Section 4024 reads, in part:

COVERED PROPERTY.—The term “covered property” means any property that—

(A) participates in—

(i) a covered housing program (as defined in section 41411(a) of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (34 U.S.C. 12491(a))); or

(ii) the rural housing voucher program under section 542 of the Housing Act of 1949 (42 U.S.C. 1490r); or

(B) has a—

(i) Federally backed mortgage loan; or

(ii) Federally backed multifamily mortgage loan.

The definition of “federally backed” includes the following language:

(B) is made in whole or in part, or insured, guaranteed, supplemented, or assisted in any way, by any officer or agency of the Federal Government or under or in connection with a housing or urban development program administered by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development or a housing or related program administered by any other such officer or agency, or is purchased or securitized by the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation or the Federal National Mortgage Association.

The terms of the moratorium and new notice period are:

(b) Moratorium.—During the 120-day period beginning on the date of enactment of this Act, the lessor of a covered dwelling may not—

(1) make, or cause to be made, any filing with the court of jurisdiction to initiate a legal action to recover possession of the covered dwelling from the tenant for nonpayment of rent or other fees or charges; or

(2) charge fees, penalties, or other charges to the tenant related to such nonpayment of rent.

(c) Notice.—The lessor of a covered dwelling unit—

(1) may not require the tenant to vacate the covered dwelling unit before the date that is 30 days after the date on which the lessor provides the tenant with a notice to vacate; and

(2) may not issue a notice to vacate under paragraph (1) until after the expiration of the period described in subsection (b).

We will update this as we learn and/or confirm.

Massachusetts Housing Courts

Federal law supercedes Massachusetts policy in many ways, see above.

The Housing Court has been changing procedure through standing orders:

  • Standing order 2-20 deferred non-emergency cases.
  • Standing order 3-20 explained what constitutes an emergency.
  • Standing order 4-20 deferred non-emergency cases again.

All nonpayment cases are continued until May 4 at the earliest. This means no eviction case will proceed.

Landlords can still get emergency cases heard, e.g., restraining orders and certain cause evictions (lease violations related to drug activities, gambling or other illegal activities, MGL Ch 139 S 19). Call the court before going in-person, hearings are being held over the phone. The local power to decide what constitutes an “emergency” gives needed judicial discretion to hear restraining orders, escrow motions, and other time sensitive matters. Landlords who need to file a time sensitive matter should contact an attorney for help making their case.

Renters in endanger of being evicted from their home may seek a stay of execution (eviction) by filing a motion with the court.
Individuals who are indigent also have access to the e-Filing platform and can file a motion to stay in any of the six (6) Divisions of the Housing Court at no cost, see EOTC Administrative Order 20-3.

All Default judgments entered on March 1st thru May 4th shall be vacated upon motion filed with the Court.

In a March 25 announcement from the Governor:

  • DHCD will no longer terminate federal and state rental vouchers.
  • MassHousing will boost RAFT by $5 million.
  • The Division of Banks (DOB) issued guidance to financial institutions and lenders urging them to provide relief for borrowers and a 60-day stay on foreclosures.
  • DHCD asks all owners of state aided low-income housing, including Local Housing Authorities and private owners, to suspend both pending non-essential evictions and the filing of any new non-essential evictions.
  • Affordable housing operators are asked to suspend non-essential evictions for loss of income or employment circumstances resulting in a tenant’s inability to make rent.
  • Operators should establish reasonable payment plans, notify Section 8 or public housing residents about interim income recertification to adjust rent payments, and to consider offering relief funding for residents ineligible for income reassessment.

Is it illegal to request or demand rent?

As of March 27, “covered properties” may not serve notices, see “Federal” above.

As of March 23, no, you can still require rent be paid and issue an eviction notice. Hold that thought:

My renter lost their job. What do I do?

Given the unprecedented circumstances surrounding COVID-19, and the fact that Massachusetts courts have postponed trials, see above/below, rent collection has become an issue for many landlords. Furthermore, as HD.4935 may pass, and terms like “moratorium on eviction” are being used, tenants may elect to not pay rent even if they’re still able to. How can landlords pursue rent collection most effectively in these circumstances?

Because many landlords depend on the rent to pay their expenses the same way their tenants may live paycheck to paycheck, we need to be smart during these challenging times. For now, MassLandlords offers the following suggestions for how to adjust your rent collection procedures over the coming months:

1. Carefully consider whether to have a conversation with your tenant about April rent and beyond

While pushing tenants to pay the entire rent may backfire in some cases, not talking to tenants about paying the rent at all may backfire as well. Putting off a conversation with your tenants about not being able to pay the rent (in whole or in part) will help for those tenants who are finding the means to pay you—but you should be ready at any moment to have the conversation. Consider the following scenarios:

  1. You may know your tenant’s income has plummeted, their savings are minimal and they won’t be able to pay the entire rent. In this case, it makes sense to initiate a conversation, sooner rather than later.
  2. You may expect your tenant can and will pay full rent, in which case you don’t need to initiate a conversation before being paid – but don’t wait until too long after the 1st to reach out if they haven’t paid. If you feel compelled to say something, consider saying: “Please, if your income remains at or near what it was prior to the emergency, continue to pay your rent. Thank you.” If it is true, you could consider adding “as these monies are needed for me to continue meeting my expenses for this building.”
  3. If you don’t know what to expect, it still makes sense to see what your tenant does first while making sure you are ready to talk—but again, don’t wait for too long after the 1st to reach out if they haven’t paid.

2. If you do have the conversation, get your tenant to make the first offer

Assuming your tenant wants to pay as much as s/he can to maintain a stable tenancy, try getting your tenant to talk first. Because your tenant may be feeling quite vulnerable, being able to understand them first, before making yourself understood, can help.

  1. If you get a sense that they want to make you whole but need to adjust (pay you later in the month or in two installments, etc.), we suggest you try to accommodate this as much as you can.
  2. If you sense the tenant is looking for concessions (paying less or none in the near future), here are some suggestions for how to do this.

    Opening line: I’m hoping we can make a plan that works for both of us. I’m thinking about rent for April but also for May, June and beyond.

    • Can you tell me what your situation is? or:
    • Yes, I know this coronavirus situation is difficult for us—can you tell me what your own situation is regarding paying the rent?

    If it feels right, ask them to talk about their income and savings going forward. Ask them if they can pay the rent but be ready to follow up by asking how much they can pay for April, May, June and beyond. You can gently remind them of the need for both of you to stretch in order to make this work.

    Once they offer something, you can counter with a higher amount (but less than the entire rent) to try to reach an agreement. Offering concessions can help them see you as being sensitive to their situations, and may motivate them to stretch for you.

3. Be creative

To help your tenant meet your interests you may need to be creative. You may want to carefully include some of the following talking points:

  1. Ask them if they have friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, benefactors, etc. who can help them out financially.
  2. Keeping in mind legal limits on occupancy, perhaps adding a roommate (temporarily) could help (draft agreement should be signed to protect both parties).
  3. Suggest that, although you have a need to keep their rent payments strong now, you could keep their rent increase low (or offer no increase) for the next leasing period in exchange (again with proper agreement in place).
  4. Barter. Offer various tasks/jobs they can do in lieu of paying some/all of the rent (if you do this, it’s best to establish a contract with deliverables according to a timetable).
  5. Accept multiple payments over the month or over multiple months.
  6. Offer them a rent reduction if they can pay a higher amount now. For example, if the monthly rent is $1250 and they tell you they can only pay $750/month for the indefinite future, suggest if they instead pay $1000 per month you would withdraw claims for the remaining $250 per month (that is until the situation stabilizes, and with proper agreement). Given the uncertainty of collecting that additional amount later, getting a lower amount now may get you more overall.
  7. Offer that extra 10-pound bag of rice, your extra cleaning products or anything else you’re confident you won’t need as a good faith gesture (and to help them reduce their costs). You can be friendly, but you’re not necessarily their friend, so be careful about boundaries.

You can make other suggestions to MassLandlords members by emailing us at Hello@masslandlords.net.

4. Establish regular check-ins to update each other given changing circumstances

  1. Schedule ahead to update each other in order to confirm your plan or revise it if necessary.
  2. Ask your tenants to communicate with you immediately if their situations change in any way.

5. If your tenant demonstrates need and asks what you can do, say the following in an email or letter:

Mary and John:

I do appreciate how challenging this is for all of us. I’d like to discuss our rent situation, as you have indicated you’re having difficulty with income at the moment. Please know: If this emergency has caused a sudden loss in your income and you do not have sufficient monies set aside to continue paying the rent, I would consider your paying a lower rent amount that adequately matches what you’re able to pay.

Because any reduction in rents collected will directly impact the financial health of the building, it’s helpful for me to better understand your situation. Would you be able to provide:

  1. documentation as to your loss of income, and
  2. documentation that you have no additional monies which could be reasonably used

as this can help us negotiate a lower rent. I would also want to review the situation on an as-needed basis in order to assess if/when we can return to the original fixed lease and rent amount. Please feel free to contact me (at _______________) regarding this situation.

I hope this helps. Stay safe.

Sincerely,

Mary Landlord

6. Should You Ask your Tenants to Leave or offer Cash for Keys?

No, we recommend you do not attempt a voluntary move-out at this time, even if both parties are willing. Circumstances are changing too quickly, and relief is expected imminently. Your renter and your other renters will take a better view of you and your handling of this crisis if you operate from an assumption that everyone who wants to continue living in your apartments can do so.

Exception: your renters (especially students) have expressed a desire to move home or to another guaranteed residence. Then consider carefully whether and how best to break the rental agreement.

7. Can I ask for proof of job loss?

Yes, and other proof. Keep in mind that self-employed, small business, and 1099 are currently ineligible for unemployment so will not have proof of having applied for unemployment.

8. What about my bills?

See “Mortgage and expense forbearance.”

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Send Residents a Bulletin about Toilet Paper

Recommended language, customize to suit:

Due to panic buying, some households may currently be out of toilet paper. Do not put anything other than toilet paper down the drain. Do not use cardboard, printer paper, receipt paper, paper towels, or anything besides toilet paper. Do not use disposable sanitary wipes, even if they say they are flushable. This is inaccurate marketing. The drain will clog. You will be without a toilet unless we can find a plumber willing to come out during the pandemic to snake the drain. Municipal lines where these wipes especially have collected are already clogging.

If at any time during the pandemic you are out of toilet paper, or anticipating running out in the next two days, please notify us. We will attempt to find you as supply or reallocate supply between willing neighbors.

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Why Toilet Paper?

Hand sanitizer and hand soap make sense. So do cans of soup, over-the-counter flu remedies and other emergency items that are disappearing from supermarket and drug store shelves. But why toilet paper?

Americans on average use about 100 rolls of toilet paper per year, or just under two rolls per week. (Image by Mylene2401 from Pixabay.)

According to CNN, the great toilet paper rush during this pandemic is a combination of: group behavior (consumers see others panic buying then feel an urge to panic buy the same items); confusion (uncertainty about where this emergency will lead and an ensuing need to stock up on household supplies); and a way of taking control amid circumstances that feel beyond our control.

For shoppers who are distressed by the current shortage of toilet paper, however, don’t fret too much. Supermarket shelves are likely to be restocked soon. The average production of toilet paper in America is more than 83 million rolls (500 2-ply sheets) per day. The average American uses about 57 sheets of toilet paper per day (i.e., 100 rolls per year, or just under two rolls per week). Multiplied by 331 million, the population of the United States, our toilet paper usage very nearly matches the daily production. Supplies are on the way.

Toilet Paper Alternatives

Environmentally conscious renters might consider using the current toilet paper shortage to realign their bathroom routines. Americans are in the minority of world population in their toilet paper use, a habit that carries a heavy environmental cost both in consumption of trees (one person’s lifetime use of toilet paper correlates to about 384 trees) and its disposal. Only about a quarter of the world’s population even uses the stuff.

Most people use alternatives, including the bidet, popular in much of Europe and parts of Asia but only recently catching on in the U.S. The coronavirus pandemic has apparently triggered a boom in sales of portable bidets, an inexpensive bottle spraying replacement for toilet paper that has become so popular it’s difficult to find any available.

Given its sudden and increasing popularity, the availability of portable bidets will likely resurge eventually for those who want to switch.

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Send Residents a Bulletin about Social Distancing

The Governor of Massachusetts has asked all residents to avoid unnecessary travel and other unnecessary activities during the two-week time period starting March 23 ending April 6. This means no parties; no guests unless essential; no visits to family members unless essential, i.e. for their health and well-being.

The United States response per capita was initially among the worst in the world. Infection spread here quickly. The World Health Organization confirmed the United States is third behind China and Italy for most cases and has the potential to become the next epicenter of coronavirus.

In all age brackets, the risk of dying from this disease is about ten times greater than for flu:

https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus#case-fatality-rate-of-covid-19-by-age

We are close to New York, where cases would exceed available hospital beds if not for the intervention of the army corps of engineers. Our proximity to New York makes it likely that we will also become heavily infected. If we do not social distance, it is likely that we will be unable to treat everyone in Massachusetts who becomes sick. Those of us who are not social distancing will be the sickest soonest. Do not take chances.

Please refrain from unnecessary activities. You can go out to purchase groceries, check in on neighbors, and take a walk for mental health etc. If you have an essential job, you can continue to work outside of your home. Otherwise, you should not go out. Make sure you have the phone number of a primary care physician or urgent care center you can call if you start to experience symptoms:

https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus
(scroll down to “symptoms”)

Unless it is an actual emergency, call before you go to the doctor. If you do experience some symptoms, it is still one hundred times more likely to be the common cold than coronavirus.

Thank you for observing social distancing as we collectively contain this serious illness.

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Real Estate Closings during Coronavirus

Registry closures leave us strongly recommending you attempt to obtain gap insurance, to cover the time between a property may be transacted and the deed may be recorded.

SD2882 needs support to permit notarized closings to happen via video conference, instead of in-person.

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Mortgage and Expense Forbearance

As of March 23, conventional residential mortgages could not be foreclosed on. Non-conforming residential mortgages may and commercial mortgages were still due and enforceable.

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Should I eat or pay my mortgage?

Recommendation: save money for food and essential repairs. Much more mortgage and debt relief is expected than is currently enacted.

Tax Forbearance

As of March 23, real estate taxes and water bills were still due and enforceable across the state.

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Sources of Emergency Funding, Stimulus

As of March 23, landlords, contractors, 1099’s, and self-employed individuals were still ineligible for Massachusetts unemployment assistance. The $2 trillion federal program may provide an additional $600 per week for four weeks, and the federal program seems to cover self-employed, 1099, and gig workers (CNN March 26).

The Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation has set up loans of up to $75,000 to help businesses continue to pay commercial rents etc. The first round of $10,000,000 was spoken for in the first three days. As of March 25, a second round was being discussed.

The Small Business Administration has set up streamlined loans for less than $500,000.

The $2 trillion federal relief bill will send roughly $1,200 to each individual who filed a tax return in 2019 for 2018, plus $500 per dependent child. The payment will phase out at higher income levels.

Links and details to follow soon.

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The Largest Stimulus in U.S. History: A Summary

After some back and forth between political party lines last week, the federal government passed a $2 trillion economic relief package as a step to help keep the economy afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. And while the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act earmarks some funding for hospitals and big industries (the airlines are receiving some $32 billion in grants for wages and benefits), a portion of the stimulus is being funneled directly to the American people.

If some of your tenants or employees are expressing concern over paying rent and other bills, either because they lost their job or have to take time away from it to care for a sick family member, it may help to remind them that help is on the way. For the full text of the bill, click here.

Unemployment gets a boost

First, a federal boost to unemployment benefits will allow those who have lost their job to collect up to $600 more per week on top of whatever their state allotment would be. Historically, independent contractors, the self-employed and people who work in a gig industry (such as driving for Uber) have not been eligible for unemployment benefits. This changes under the CARES Act, with contractors and gig workers eligible for federal relief. These benefits are available for up to four months.

One caveat: As of April 3, Massachusetts’ unemployment website was not yet accepting applications for unemployment for those in the aforementioned groups. According to the site, the state is “awaiting federal guidance” on the issue. It recommends checking back with the unemployment site, as updates will be posted there as they become available.

Finally, unemployment benefits at the state level will be extended, from a previous 26-week cap on benefits to 39 weeks. This extension is valid through December 31, 2020. The waiting period for benefits, typically one week, has also been waived, as has the work history requirement. That means even if your tenant lost a job they just recently acquired, they can still collect benefits.

Stimulus Checks are on the Way

Under the CARES Act, most adults will receive $1200 ($2400 per couple), with an additional payment of $500 per qualifying child under age 16. This one-time benefit is available to any adult who made less than $75,000 in 2018 (or 2019, if they have already filed those taxes), $150,000 per couple. The amount then gradually decreases as people’s earnings increase—single people earning $99,000 or couples earning $198,000 would not receive a payment.

You can let your tenants know that they do not need to apply to receive the payment. Payments will be direct deposited based on tax return information from the IRS. The IRS has said it is building a portal for individuals who want to update or add direct deposit information. If your tenant does not typically need to file a tax return, they will need to file a simple return to receive their economic impact payment. The IRS will soon publish information on how to do that.

Relief for Small Businesses

Small business owners may be concerned about making rent or other bills if their business has slowed (or stopped) due to social isolation mandates. The CARES Act allows the Small Business Association to offer a 100 percent guarantee on up to $349 billion in loan money.

These disaster assistance loans can be used to cover payroll, rent or other business-related bills. The verification process can be started here. There are some stipulations (in most cases, the business cannot have more than 500 employees, for example), but the goal is to streamline the process to get cash to struggling businesses in an expedient manner. Applications must be completed in full for consideration. The program runs through June 30, and portions of the loan may not need to be repaid (for instance, up to eight weeks’ worth of payroll may be forgiven). Payout could be within two weeks for these loans, though some are reporting the site to apply is quite slow at times. Applicants may not be able to load it during peak times.

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State and Federal Assistance for Small Businesses

As of April 7, 2020

Small businesses in Massachusetts have, in theory, a few options for covering costs to help offset revenue losses due to the coronavirus pandemic response. And unusually, small business in this case includes freelancers, gig economy workers and sole proprietorships.

The question is whether small businesses – many of which operate with only weeks’ worth of capital – will be able to obtain funding soon enough to avoid layoffs, pay utilities, rents and mortgages, and remain solvent.

Procuring ample funds may be delayed for many due to several reasons: government agencies are so overwhelmed with small business loan applications; government funding has not been equal to the massive wave of need; and confusion among lenders and applicants about these quickly produced loan programs have muddled their early progress.

Rough Start for SBA Payroll Program

The U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA’s) Payroll Protection Program,
which launched on Friday, April 3, provides nearly $350 billion for American businesses with fewer than 500 employees. The loan program, a cornerstone of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act (read an overview of the CARES Act) signed into law last week, is targeted primarily toward helping business owners retain their employees at full wages.

A prominent feature of the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) is a 100 percent forgiveness of the loan, provided the funds are used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest and utilities. Loan forgiveness is contingent on employers retaining all of their employees without reducing their wages. Forgiveness also requires that employers use at least 75 percent of the loan funds for payroll. Any loan payments that are necessary will be deferred for six months.

No collateral is required to be eligible for the PPP, and no fees will be charged to apply or procure funds. The program, available through June 30, 2020, is for any small business, including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and self-employed people.

Thousands of banks throughout the U.S. are participating in administering these SBA loans, but it may take time for some banks to prepare for the onslaught of applications and processing, as evidenced by the precarious start to the program when banks were flooded with requests. Check with your local bank to see if they are participating in the program.

Applications to the SBA program are being processed on a first-come, first-served basis. Many lawmakers and business advocates agree that the total allotment for the program will not be sufficient, and that more government funding for small businesses will need to follow.

Mass. Business Loans

The status of the Small Business Recovery Loan Fund, a $10 million program announced by Governor Charlie Baker on March 16, is uncertain. Created as a lifeline for businesses across the state with fewer than 50 full- and part-time employees, including non-profit businesses, the program was capitalized and administered by the Massachusetts Growth and Capital Corporation (MGCC) The MGCC was quickly overwhelmed with applications and ceased accepting new applicants on March 19. On March 20, the state approved an additional $10 million to meet the demand of program applicants.

The MGCC now refers small business loan applicants in Massachusetts to apply for the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), a much larger program that allows borrowing up to $2 million. Gov. Baker successfully petitioned the SBA to allow Massachusetts business owners who have experienced economic injury due to the coronavirus pandemic to apply for the program.

These EIDL loans are allotted with a 3.75 percent interest rate (2.75 for nonprofits) and with long-term repayment schedules, up to 30 years. The deadline for application is set, for the moment, for December 18, 2020.

The SBA also offers a loan advance of $10,000 for those who have been approved for the EIDL loan program. The advance is available immediately and does not have to be repaid.

Local Grants

Several Massachusetts cities have stepped forward with grant funding for small businesses struggling from coronavirus-related revenue losses.

Worcester, Fitchburg and Cambridge have so far established grant programs for small businesses, ranging in aid from $6,000 (Cambridge) to $10,000 (Worcester). The grants, administered through the cities’ Community Development Block Grant programs, carry different, though similar, stipulations for applicants. For one, the grants require that businesses can document evidence of income loss beginning in March with coronavirus-related business closings.

These grants will not require repayment as long as the grant stipulations are met.

Boston is being called on to implement a similar small business grant program.

Other SBA Loan Options

Small businesses in Massachusetts that already have a current credit relationship with a preferred SBA lender may also apply for an Express Bridge Loan. This pilot program allows small businesses to access up to $25,000 quickly in order to bridge expenses while awaiting other funding or reopening.

The SBA is also offering a debt relief program for small businesses that already have 7(a) loans. (SBA 7(a) loans are a popular funding vehicle for small businesses in which the SBA provides lenders with a backup guarantee of repayment for applicants with insufficient business credit history.) Under this program, the SBA will cover principal and interest on 7(a) loans for six months beginning March 27, 2020.

Tax Relief

On March 18, Gov. Baker announced state tax relief for small businesses, particularly those in the restaurant and hospitality sectors. Under this provision, collection of sales, meals and room occupancy taxes will be suspended for the months of March, April and May 2020. The due date for such taxes has been set for June 20, with penalties and interest waived.

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Civic Participation

Petition for Surety Bonds to Guarantee Existing Housing

We are asking everyone to sign the petition “Guarantee Existing Housing in Massachusetts“.

Our legislative affairs counsel, Peter Vickery, has put together a simple, immediate, and comprehensive relief plan to deal with the looming loss of funds to keep and maintain housing: surety bonds.

Much is being made of the $2 trillion stimulus. But payments will come no sooner than mid-April with direct deposit, and longer by mail. State unemployment is not keeping up with applications, and doesn’t cover 1099, self-employed, or gig workers. Relief is landing late and unevenly.

In addition to this, many reasonable and well informed people are expecting this crisis to last months to years, until a vaccine and/or medicine is in place. This puts saving our housing and our economy beyond the reach of a one-time stimulus. Even in China they are preparing for the second wave to come August to October, now that they are relaxing restrictions. This virus may very well be here to stay.

Many of us are still working from home and able to pay. But eviction moratoriums make it seem like no one needs to pay. And eviction moratoriums end, making it seem like we might all get evicted when this is over.

Here is the solution:

Sign to Guarantee Existing Housing

The government can guarantee the housing we have by issuing surety bonds.

We need everyone who sees this to sign. Then we will send to the Speaker of the House.

What does “surety bond” mean in plain English?

It means if a renter doesn’t pay rent because of coronavirus, the Commonwealth will pay it. Timing will need to be determined after the crisis passes. The basic guarantee would mean, above and beyond any eviction moratorium, that no renter need leave their home voluntarily or otherwise, and no landlord need fear bankruptcy, tax liens, or emergency bills going unpaid indefinitely.

Doesn’t a surety bond cost as much as the entire rental industry GDP?

No, the surety bond is a resource of last resort for those not participating in the economy and/or not receiving adequate assistance:

  • Hundreds of thousands of Commonwealth residents continue to receive income while working from home or while responding to the crisis.
  • Section 8, Massachusetts Rental Vouchers, RAFT, and many other housing subsidies continue to be paid and in some cases expanded.
  • State unemployment, combined with federal stimulus and federal unemployment expansion, facilitate partial or full payments for many more households.

The bond is needed to cover everyone else. For instance:

  • undocumented residents ineligible for relief,
  • Schedule E earners (mom and pop retirees turned landlords) ineligible for unemployment, even federally,
  • landlords with commercial loans that are not being forgiven,

and everyone else for whom existing stimulus is inadequate.

Why should we pay rent, isn’t housing free for the timebeing?

No, housing is enormously expensive, and the housing crisis with which we entered the pandemic means there is no way for us to build more cheaply. We have immediate housing costs to cover:

  • Municipal tax bills are due in May and June. These pay for first responders and other essential infrastructure like water and gas.
  • Sewer and main lines are clogging due to the uneven distribution of toilet paper and the use of alternative unflushable materials.
  • Fire, leaks, infestation, and normal housing problems continue in parallel to the pandemic.
  • Commercial mortgages from private banks and lenders were not forgiven under the CARES Act.

How would the program be implemented?

The legislature would issue a declaration of surety, and landlords would apply to it later for payment later still. (Our first priority for government ought to be the medical response.) Surety payment will require landlords show two things:

  • The rental agreement is documentable prior to the declaration of surety by the legislature;
  • The rental agreement is going unpaid provably because of the pandemic, declaration of emergency, or resulting shut-down of the economy or social services.

Surety will block landlords from evicting:

  • No court of the Commonwealth shall accept for filing any claim for nonpayment on an agreement subject to surety prior to surety payment having been either issued or denied. (The proposed text would also close the “no fault” loophole.)

By blocking filing, surety will prevent renters from having a court record.

How will rental agreements be documented?

Every documentable rental agreement going unpaid because of the crisis would be covered by the initial declaration. The primary check will be by address of record, not names of landlords or household members. Written and verbal agreements would have to count to cover every household. Examples:

  • A written lease or tenancy-at-will dated prior to the declaration of surety would be documentable by submitting a copy of the written lease or tenancy-at-will.
  • An unwritten (verbal) agreement paid via check would be documentable by submitting copies of voided checks or other proof of repeat payment prior to the declaration.
  • An unwritten (verbal) agreement paid via cash would be documentable by affidavit of both parties.

In each case, the address of the rental agreement must be verifiable and unique. Surety cannot apply to two households claiming the same address, since the date set is the date on which surety is declared. After this date, anyone leaving voluntarily or otherwise will be making a mistake. We will all work hard to communicate to everyone to stay put under every circumstance. Fire or other casualty loss resulting in condemnation would end surety for that address.

How would a surety bond pay out?

No additional cash disbursement need be made during the pandemic. The guarantee would outlast the pandemic, enabling the state to pay out guarantees over time according to any priority set by the legislature, including restrictions that the guarantee to be paid out of future tax revenue. Reasonable interest ought to be enacted with the guarantee.

Only the owner of record as recorded by the registry will be eligible to receive payment. We will have to check:

  • For each address, is this unique or is surety being claimed (or has it been claimed) for this same address already?
  • For each address, is the application for surety payment in the name of the owner of record?
  • For each address, is the particular unit recognized as real and pre-existing either by the assessor’s office, the zoning plan, a record of constructions permits, or other trustworthy source?
  • For each payee, is the owner a real person or entity not subject to Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) or other restrictions on receiving payment?

Is this program unique?

Not really, there are already surety bonds available for sale in Massachusetts to insure individual rental agreements. Bonds are also used by bonded movers, construction companies, and other industries. This would be the first time the Commonwealth would be offering to back an entire class of bond. It would be a new type of bond specific to COVID-19 intended to stabilize housing across the state.

Who would do what exactly?

Renters would still have to pay rent if they could. If they can’t (and many can’t), they only have to show their landlord that their inability to pay rent is related to coronavirus. Any documentation they can provide would help the landlord. The intent is that documenting loss of work will be easy (e.g., proof of receiving unemployment inadequate to cover full rent after food and medications, or ineligible for unemployment, etc.).

Landlords would take their renter’s information to apply to the state for surety on their dwelling units (either all at once or as needed). They would purchase surety bonds from a surety bond company. They would wait before making a claim for payment.

  • A landlord with cash reserves and/or adequate rent from other units could wait indefinitely for each surety bonded household to get back on their feet and resume paying, however long it takes, before making their claim. The bonds outlast the declaration of emergency. If the economy doesn’t rebound for many, many months or longer, such a landlord would have the option of letting the renter remain there that entire time, barred from filing for eviction for nonpayment, certain that they would eventually be paid for this service, so long as the renter’s documentation trail shows they are still unable to pay rent as a result of the coronavirus.
  • A landlord with inadequate cash reserves and/or rent from other units could claim payment of the bond earlier and still pursue their rights if rent continues to go unpaid after. A unit with a bond payment already made, or which has been rejected from the surety bond process for some reason, would not be subject to the indefinite eviction moratorium. But a unit once bonded cannot be re-bonded after, so landlords are encouraged to float their existing renters as long as possible.

Surety bond companies continue to operate as essential insurers. They would expand their operation to sell bonds to landlords. They would work with the Commonwealth to comply with terms of sale and payment.

An agency of the Commonwealth (e.g., the Department of Housing and Community Development) would administer the program. This includes reviewing applications from landlords, giving landlords the premium money to purchase surety bonds from a licensed surety bond company, reimbursing surety bond companies for eventual claims, and preventing fraud and abuse.

Clerks of the trial court would examine nonpayment and “no fault” filings for evidence (or check a database) that a surety bond has been issued and payment remains outstanding on that address. They would reject nonpayment and “no fault” filings for that unit until after the bond has been closed out.

Why make it effective the day of signing, as opposed to retroactive to the date of emergency or in the future?

Renters and landlords continue to make the best of a bad situation, the market continues to limp forward, and many households have been relocated following prior levies of execution, voluntary move-outs, or mediated agreements for move-out. The only way to catch everyone today is to enact surety today, rather than an arbitrary date in the past.

If we make the effective date retroactive to the date of the emergency declaration, new rental agreements would not be covered even though the economy continues to slide.

If we make the effective date in the future after the date of passage, new rental agreements will be created that otherwise would not be created in an effort to get access to the surety bond.

Could a bond bill lead to discrimination?

A bond bill is likely to be affirmatively anti-discriminatory: landlords are more likely to purchase bonds for households hardest hit by the pandemic and economic shutdown, including households that have, through systemic racism, already been denied the opportunity to build up large cash reserves and/or obtain work-from-home jobs. Because the Commonwealth is paying both the bond and the premium to purchase it, there is every reason to purchase a bond for every unit facing housing insecurity.

Landlord actions under a bond bill would still be subject to our Commonwealth’s tough anti-discrimination laws, which are in no way waived or reduced by the bill. For instance, if a landlord decided not to purchase a bond for any given household, i.e., because they hoped to evict that household as soon as a moratorium ended, they would be acting contrary to the purpose of the bill and their discriminatory intent could be discovered and stopped in court. “Why didn’t you bond this household? Which households did you bond? Why are you evicting this one household?” etc.

We would recommend landlords adopt a written policy that determines which units will be bonded and/or that landlords purchase bonds for all units facing housing insecurity.

What about people experiencing homelessness?

Surety applies to existing housing. We need to keep everyone who has a home in their home indefinitely. We are dealing with the response to homelessness separately. By keeping everyone in their existing housing, we eliminate incoming pressure on the emergency assistance/homelessness system.

Isn’t this the same as an eviction moratorium?

No, state and federal eviction moratoriums will end far sooner than the economy will recover. It may takes years for some households to become self-sufficient again, and it will take years for others to receive rental assistance (the wait for Section 8 was ten years before the pandemic). A declaration of surety applies as long as the rental agreement continues forward, however long it takes us to recover together.

Sign to Guarantee Existing Housing

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Funerals in the Time of Coronavirus

The American funeral looks much different during a pandemic

With the federal government limiting gathering sizes to 10 people or fewer in an attempt to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, most public events are completely off the table. But the sobering truth, especially now, is that people are dying every day. How do you hold a funeral in the time of covid-19? What if that person died from coronavirus?

The CDC states that there is “no known risk associated with being in the same room at a funeral or visitation service with the body of someone who died of covid-19.” However, it also cautions people not to touch the body of someone who has died from the virus, and has issued special guidelines to funeral directors.

So, we know that going to a funeral or wake is, in theory, safe, as long as you don’t touch the body and remain separated from other attendees. Even if the person did not die from coronavirus, common sense and general social distancing guidelines would suggest that touching the casket or body after others have would not be the safest idea. However, there’s still the moratorium on gatherings with more than 10 people. What’s a mourner to do?

The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) advises people to first check with your local regulations to see if public events of any kind are still being allowed. If they are, it suggests limiting the number of people invited to a funeral or viewing to immediate family only. At least in the case of a viewing, you could stagger visitors so that no more than 10 people are in the viewing area at a time, if that met local guidelines and the funeral home’s own rules. But the funeral service is another matter.

There’s the option of delaying the funeral until the pandemic is over or it becomes safe to gather again. For instance, cremating a loved one now and holding the funeral later is a viable option. Families have been doing this for years, for many reasons. But if delaying the funeral is not an option, the NFDA suggests holding a private funeral with immediate family only and then hosting a memorial service at a later date.

Another less orthodox – at least before the pandemic – option is to take advantage of technology and allow mourners to access the funeral via the Internet. An entirely live-streamed funeral may have seemed gauche to some a year ago, or a last resort for mourners who could not otherwise attend. But today, practicality may win over convention.

In fact, the CDC is recommending this as the best course of action if delaying a funeral is not possible. Many funeral homes will have webcams and the technology to allow streaming; be sure to confirm with an establishment ahead of time that they will be able to accommodate your wishes.

Whatever option you choose, the important thing is that your loved one is remembered in a way that allows you to mourn while keeping everyone else safe. Be sure to check what is allowed in your area, stay home if you can, and look forward to the days when you can come together with everyone again.

I don’t need to social distance, I’ve lived a good life

Some seniors are telling their landlords and family members that they intend to disregard social distancing because “I’ve lived a good life.” Your best practice is to point out two flaws in this logic.

First, if such a senior gets sick, they will be stressing the medical system. Medical professionals are bound by oath to provide care and treatment unless a living will explicitly states otherwise. One person cannot choose to become sick without taking care and attention away from others who made no such choice.
Second, if such a senior were to die, their friends would be at a serious loss having to mourn in isolation. Only immediate family would be able to attend the service in person, or there may be no service at all.

Early anecdotal evidence seems to be that these two arguments are effective at enforcing social distancing, even among holdouts.

It also helps to encourage seniors to obtain and learn to use Facetime or Zoom (if they’re fortunate enough to have access to capable devices) or to establish a schedule of phoning neighbors and friends. This will alleviate feelings of isolation while still maintaining social distance.

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Additional Resources

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