Tell Your Rep. and Senator: Don’t Band-Aid Rental Assistance and Triple Court Duration

The Fiscal Year 2024 state budget has been passed by the House and Senate in different forms. Now a conference committee will reconcile the two. Both versions contain provisions that would Band-Aid rental assistance and triple court duration for landlords and renters seeking access to mediation or trial. Members and the public should contact their representative and senator in opposition.

Specifically, House budget outside section 28 and Senate budget outside section 48 reinstate Chapter 257 of the Acts of 2020. This was a pandemic era law that lapsed earlier this year. It was right to lapse it, because housing providers and renter advocates couldn’t agree on how to solve this shared problem. Even worse, the Senate version attempts to backdoor part of the controversial and ill-conceived eviction sealing bill.

If rental assistance and its administration remain underfunded, pausing evictions is actively harmful. Better for the landlord and renter to mediate a judgment than wait for months only to be denied.

Ask your representative and senator to write to the budget reconciliation committee. Ask them to oppose these sections, the Senate version most of all.

1. Budget Sections House 28 and Senate 48 Band-Aid Rental Assistance

Renters and landlords agree that rental assistance takes too long. This is why Chapter 257 of the Acts of 2020 was originally passed: eviction cases for nonpayment were paused while applications for rental assistance were figured out. This was a pandemic Band-Aid. Now, more than three years later, rental assistance remains broken.

Ask a regional administering agency and they may say the turnaround time is three weeks. That’s from the moment they acknowledge receipt of all required documentation. In practice, from the time a renter and a landlord both ask for help, it can be months and months before either one knows what’s missing. The courts have to pause mediations while we wait. But since applications are not public, not even the case workers sitting in the courts can find out about some applications.

MassLandlords has been in litigation against the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (formerly the Department of Housing and Community Development). They had lost 47,000 out of the 151,000 applications for rental assistance as of when our litigation started. They refuse to release records about this. They are still losing applications! We’ve grossly underfunded them. This is a shared problem the budget could fix!

A graph of summary process (eviction) duration from filing to final disposition for Housing Court, District Court and Boston Municipal Court. The vertical y-axis is days from zero to 500 days. The horizontal x-axis is time from April 2019 through August 2021. There are three lines. The mean line is roughly 25 days from April 2019 until the pandemic starts March 2020, when it begins increasing to a maximum of 125 days in January 2021, then declines to 100 days in August 2021. The median line follows the mean, but ten days less for all dates and diverging lower even than this during the pandemic when many cases were quickly dismissed. The 95th-percentile line starts at 100 days, declines to 50 days until March 2020, and increases to around 300 days, with sharp ups and downs, through the rest of the graph and ending on 250 days.

The pandemic closed the courts, causing 95th-percentile case duration to more than triple, and mean and median case duration to triple. Chapter 257 of the Acts of 2020 was signed December 31, 2020, and sustained these long court durations despite the courts having reopened. Licensed CC BY-SA 4.0 MassLandlords, Inc.

2. The Budget Should be Used to Fund Rental Assistance and its Administration, not Band-Aid It

Nothing could be less enlightened than to take a budget problem, write a non-budget law about it, and attach it to the budget. But this is exactly what has been done. The House and Senate budgets could increase funding for rental assistance to renters. They could increase funding for agencies to administer it. They could increase funding for technology to do it better in the long-term.

Instead, House Section 28 and Senate Section 48 are completely unrelated to the budget. There is not a single dollar provision in them. Except for the fact that the longer an eviction takes, the more attorney time is involved, the more we need legal services. Chapter 257 of the Acts of 2020 tripled court duration however you measure it (mean, average, 95th percentile, etc.). The same amount of rental assistance applied faster would have had better outcomes for all with less lawyering.

If rental assistance is not enough to stabilize a tenancy, it cannot be paid out. The longer it takes to get, the less likely you are to get it.

“Assume that your application is going to take three months,” she says, and that rent arrears are going to continue building while you await word from RAFT. Also assume that you may have to resubmit documents more than once. And don’t assume that a RAFT grant is going to cover the amount of rent owed.  Read More.

3. These Budget Band-Aids Are Actively Harmful

If you really cared about renters, you’d allow landlords and renters to mediate. Why? Because mediation prevents between two-thirds and 90% of all summary process filings from becoming physical evictions. Mediation is hugely successful. But these budget sections forbid it through careless wording about judgments.

If you really cared about renters, you’d be using the budget to ask for increased rental assistance limits, like we have done in 193 H.1317 and H.1374. Why? Because no amount of delay can change the fact that we’re in a housing crisis, and that the short-term solution is rental assistance. But these budget sections have no budget.

If you really cared about renters, you wouldn’t dream of moving toward eviction sealing, the way the Senate version does. Eviction sealing in any amount causes landlords to mistrust the court records and increase income requirements and credit score minimums on all rental applications. This harms especially good applicants with no prior records. But the senate version sneaks in eviction sealing.

With rental assistance and its administration underfunded, pausing evictions helps no one and hurts many. Arrears will grow beyond the point where rental assistance could have helped. Applicant after applicant will be denied and evicted.

We need to get renters and landlords in the same room at the same time to solve these issues with a separate piece of legislation, like 193 H.1317 and H.1374. The housing crisis is too big and complicated for the short-term response to be tacked onto the budget like an afterthought.

Write your representative and senator to tell them you oppose House Budget Outside Section 28 and Senate Budget Outside Section 48, and the Senate one is the worse of the two.

Contact Your Rep and Senator

Call the office and leave a voicemail to say you are a real constituent.

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See Also:

Three Years After Covid Shutdowns, Same Problems Still Frustrate the Rental Assistance Application Process May 30, 2023


8 Responses to Tell Your Rep. and Senator: Don’t Band-Aid Rental Assistance and Triple Court Duration

  1. Bob Montgomery Thomas says:

    My rep, Jamie Murphy and his Senate counterpart, Patrick O’Connor are worthless. Weymouth deserves better.

    On another note, you might consider adding a print link/icon on your page or site to make it easier to save the information. I only use my phone for internet access and it’s difficult to copy, paste and email to myself in order to print your really good stuff out as a PDF in the phone to transfer to my PC, which I do NOT go online with. I can go to the library to copy and paste to Word and save, but that’s time consuming.

    Keep up the good work, Doug.

  2. john boyle says:

    Summary process means quickly ,no needless fomalities,but of course in our court system it doesnt work that way and now more delays and paperwork.
    The tenants contiuoes to live rent fee and months go by and finally after the cost of attorney ,mover and contalbes fees ,they leave.
    You have a money judgment and can chase them to pay but we know they will never pay a dime and now tenants want rent control too.

  3. Val says:

    Eviction sealing is especially harmful to mom and pop and black and brown landlords who have fewer reserves to fall back on when a tenant does not pay or damages a property. Owner occupied property landlords especially the elderly, disabled and single women have a right to have as much information about a tenant’s background as possible because they live on the property and have a heightened level of vulnerability.

  4. CONRAD ALLEN says:

    This is absolutely crazy. We are experiencing a severe housing crisis. This doesn’t noting to motivate landlords. It will continue to decrease the available housing stock.

  5. brian t says:

    I Have already raised my standards to 700+ credit score. do not care what kind of assistance you get, that’s great, but you need to be a responsible human being to dance with me.
    I have had it with sluggo tenants that are gaming this broken system. The housing stock will shrink for this subset of irresponsible tenant, The internet is here to tell their mindless way of living.

  6. DANASH says:

    Eviction sealing is especially harmful to mom and pop and black and brown landlords who have fewer reserves to fall back on when a tenant does not pay or damages a property. Owner occupied property landlords especially the elderly, disabled and single women have a right to have as much information about a tenant’s background as possible because they live on the property and have a heightened level of vulnerability.

  7. Val H says:

    I completely agree with Val’s as well as many of the other statements. There are so many rights for tenants and very few for small landlords. The overpricing of rental units in Boston primarily stems from developers not small landlord. It is difficult to maintain our properties without the rental income. Boston fines landlords who do not maintain their property yet do very little to help when tenants do not pay their rent or trash their units. Landlords have to hire attorneys to help with the eviction process which cost even more money. We are being punished because of a few bad actors. Why cant they there be an incentive program for small landlords whereby if they maintain affordable housing units, they can receive a tax break, or financial assistance for maintenance costs, and assistance to evict repeat offenders. Some tenants are very knowledgeable with regards to tenant rights, more so than most landlords. Not all rent dodging tenants are victims, many use the law to avoid paying rent. I had to pay an significant amount of money through the eviction process. I’ve had tenant file false charges against me for harassment and not show up for court on the day of the summons, yet I had to pay my attorney. I rented to clients of the Boston Homeless program, only to have one escorted out by the police for using drugs on the premises and allowing his street buddies to do so in is room, another one refused to pay rent and created a flooding situation that caused $2500 in damages I had to payout of pocket. I could go on and on with different scenarios. Why doesn’t the House and Senate Reps care about us? We pay taxes and we vote!

  8. James M says:

    I’m done with tenants, done. I now have a Section 8 tenant who, just like the twin sister before her, has trashed the apartment, holes in the walls, no heat, we even put the electric in our name to help her and now that has gone up 290% from last year. We have to make repairs to the unit and they refuse to let us in. There are two or three pit bulls and god knows how many strange people staying there, beats a tent I guess. No shower curtain, no hot water, living like swill and arrogant and threatening about it. I look up the eviction process (they don’t pay their portion, duh), and it’s a minefield. What, I have to now be her attorney of sorts, advising her of all the delaying she can do. Google “how to screw over your landlord”, it’s a mindblower. Who’s a good attorney in Pittsfield, I used to be able to do this, but no more.

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