Open Letter to Members on Eviction Sealing Hearing Tues. May 9

Stop Eviction Sealing, Debt Cancelation
June 2024 update: We filed testimony against this terrible bill. We didn't speak loudly enough. It has been recommended "ought to pass." You have to help us turn up the volume. Tell your representatives and senators that it won't just be landlords mad at them. It will be the 96% of good renters who suddenly find their next door neighbors are smoking in a no-smoking building, loud and disruptive, or violent. These things will all be impossible to screen when no-cause-stated evictions are sealed.

Watch our four minute video.

Please mark your calendars for next Tuesday, May 9, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. The State House has announced a hearing of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary at which eviction sealing, among other bills, will be heard.

Eviction sealing is housing partisanship from renter advocacy circles without landlord input. Actually, I did provide input to then-councilor, now senator, Lydia Edwards in her office: don't do it.

The problem we're trying to solve here is simple: some renters have a court history through no fault of their own. There are three ways this can happen. Each has a different solution.

To help renters filed against for-cause, we should make housing history a protected class like criminal history. This would require owners to evaluate for-cause eviction filings on a case-by-case basis. “Did the renter win their case? Was it a long time ago? Is this a different situation now?” Any of these could mean a for-cause case no longer matters.

To help renters evicted for nonpayment, we should expand the safety net to catch people upstream of court. We should eliminate the requirement to serve a notice to quit. And we should help the regionals process applications in a timely fashion without prioritizing cases closer to final eviction.

To help renters evicted “no cause stated,” well, here we have the hardest problem.

Proponents of eviction sealing argue that huge numbers of renters are evicted “no cause stated” when property owners want to renovate. Take it from any landlord, this should never happen. Any landlord who can do math will quickly realize they are better off reimbursing a renter to leave than hiring an attorney to slog through months of court and possible counterclaims.

Renters in court through “no fault of their own” are a very different matter from a “no-cause-stated (sometimes called "no-fault" eviction filing.” When a landlord takes a renter to court for no cause stated, it’s most likely that something has gone seriously wrong.

For instance, a no-cause-stated eviction filing is the only remedy available for landlords where witnesses are afraid to come forward and testify in a for-cause eviction case. There is usually no witness protection program for civil matters. Without evidence from witnesses, you cannot have a for-cause case that meets evidentiary standards. A “no-fault/no-cause-stated eviction” case does not always mean the tenant was not at fault.

In conflating no-cause-stated eviction cases with other court cases, eviction sealing threatens to make impossible the most important tenant screening work in Massachusetts. Landlords have to see court records to determine their relevance to our existing customers. We have to talk to both sides. If we’re found to be treating applicants unfairly, we can be sued for discrimination. But above all, we have to ensure that the new residents we approve will be contributing members of the community, same as everyone else who passed our application.

Tuesday’s hearing needs strong owner and manager turnout. MassLandlords will be writing testimony for this and other bills being heard next week. We will also be coordinating your testimony in writing, by Zoom and in-person. Stay tuned for more details. For now, please mark this time on your calendars to participate in-person or by Zoom.

Doug Quattrochi
Executive Director
MassLandlords, Inc.