Last Tuesday afternoon Mayor Martin Walsh was up at the State House to offer testimony in support of two bills that aim to protect senior renters and ensure the right to counsel in eviction cases.
The first bill, House Bill H. 3373 will ensure protections for older adults in just-cause evictions.
The bill was part of Mayor Walsh’s legislative package, which focuses on expanding the work that Boston has done to address the region’s housing crisis by proposing new and existing tools to help existing tenants remain in their homes and create additional funding for affordable housing.
The bill, An Act Relative to the Just Cause Eviction of Elderly Lessees, was sponsored by Rep. Adrian Madaro (D-East Boston) and would prohibit no-fault eviction of people over 75 years of age, limiting rent increases to five percent per year to prevent landlords from using large rent increases to get around just cause protections.
Eviction would only be permitted for good cause such as, for example, failure to pay rent, damage to the property, use of the premises for illegal activities. Over the last six months, the housing team at the City’s Age Strong Commission has advocated for residents in 10 active court cases involving older Boston residents.
“H. 3373 would allow municipalities to protect our most vulnerable elderly residents from unfair evictions. Boston’s Age Strong Commission answers several calls each week from distraught seniors facing eviction-with an increasing number from seniors over the age of 75,” said Walsh. “These seniors call us because they have nowhere else to turn, and nowhere else to live. In one case, a 77-year-old man has lived in his home in the Fenway for over 40 years, but this summer received notice to quit, with no cause given. In another, an 88-year-old lives in a building that was sold, and the new landlord wants a big rent increase that he can’t possibly afford. This treatment is not acceptable for seniors who spent their lives here and helped build our communities.”
Our legislation would provide tenants over the age of 75 with “just cause” protection. This term simply means that landlords must provide a legitimate reason for eviction, such as failure to pay rent, damage to the property, or illegal activity. Landlords could still raise rents each year by as much as five percent. And the bill exempts properties with five or fewer units-because we know that some small property owners are renting at below-market rents to long-term elderly tenants. We want to protect those arrangements and we want to protect our most vulnerable seniors.
“These bills rank among the highest priorities for the City of Boston this legislative session. They advance our commitment to being a city where everyone has access to a stable and secure home-regardless of income, age, or family situation,” said Mayor Walsh in his testimony. “They reflect our belief that a successful city must be a caring community, where nobody is left behind or forced to leave.”
Rep. Madaro said he was, “Was proud to testify alongside Mayor Marty Walsh Tuesday in support of H. 3373, a bill I filed to require just cause eviction for seniors living in multi-unit buildings. Elderly tenants are some of the most vulnerable members of our communities when it comes to displacement and eviction. We should be caring for our seniors, not putting them out on the streets. I’m proud to partner with Mayor Walsh to offer this bill and spark the discussion about keeping our longtime residents in their homes.”
The Mayor also offered testimony on another bill that would ensure the right to counsel in eviction proceedings.
That bill, S. 913 and H. 3456, An Act to Ensure Right to Counsel in Eviction Proceedings, was sponsored by Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) and Rep. Chynah Tyler (D-Roxbury).
“For the wider population of tenants who face eviction, right-to-counsel legislation would provide much-needed access to justice,” said Walsh at the hearing. “It would make legal representation in eviction proceedings a right, just like it is for defendants in criminal cases. If a tenant could not afford their own attorney, one would be appointed for them by the Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services. This is not about stacking the deck in favor of a tenant-it’s about ensuring equal justice under the law. Currently, there is a large imbalance in access to counsel between landlords and tenants. In the most recent data, landlords were represented by counsel in over 58 percent of cases, while tenants were represented in just eight percent of cases.”
Walsh added that means over 9 out of 10 tenants facing eviction do not have a lawyer present for one of the most life-altering and potentially damaging legal situations they will ever face.
“Evidence from other cities, including New York, shows that right-to-counsel reduces evictions and has a positive impact on court efficiency,” he said. “Counsel can help negotiate mutually beneficial outcomes, such as a payment agreement or an extension of time to find alternative housing. Right to counsel is a significant step, and this legislation would not take it lightly. It calls for a public task force, reporting back to the Legislature on an implementation plan that takes into account recruitment, standards, data sharing, and cost. The right to counsel would not go into effect until two years after the task force’s report.”
Rep. Tyler said, “We have a big displacement crisis in the City of Boston and evictions are a large part of that. My district has been hit the hardest by this problem and it will continue to get worse without some type of intervention. Expanding access to legal services in eviction proceedings is a necessary tool we need in order to prevent the negative effects of this crisis including homelessness.”