A Massachusetts housing court judge on Monday struck down Boston’s temporary eviction moratorium.
Associate Justice Irene H. Bagdoian said the city exceeded its authority in imposing the ban, and that only the Massachusetts Legislature has the power to issue a temporary exemption to state eviction laws. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said the city will seek a stay of the decision to keep the moratorium in place.
The Boston Public Health Commission issued the moratorium in August under the direction of former acting Mayor Kim Janey. The commission argued that the spread of COVID-19 and its impact on certain communities justified such action.
The judge said in her decision that the commission “went so far as to claim that it has the broad power to unilaterally override Massachusetts General Laws when citing to a recognized health emergency." She said the Boston Public Health Commission is empowered to issue "reasonable public health regulations" but that the city did not prove in court its moratorium was a "reasonable" response for the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We need more protections for renters in Boston," Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said in a statement after the decision. "Our focus remains on protecting tenants from displacement during the COVID emergency, and connecting our residents to city and state rental relief programs.”
The lawsuit against the city was filed in part by Mattapan landlord Janet Avila, who has a tenant in her triple-decker home who owes her almost $30,000 in back rent, according to her attorneys.
"Small landlords over the past year and a half have been basically told, ‘Suck it up. We don't care if you're getting paid, we don't care if you have good reason to have a tenant removed from your property, whether it's for nonpayment or for some other good reason,’" Mitchell Matorin, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, said after the decision. "But it's important to remember that landlords, in particular small landlords, provide most of the low- and medium-income housing and that things … that harm the small landlords, end up harming the tenants themselves as well.”
Matorin said Bagdoian’s order sets out the boundaries for what actions a municipality can take without state approval.
"Somerville and Malden have nearly identical moratoriums, and the court’s reasoning applies with the same force to those moratoriums," he added. "We hope and expect that Somerville and Malden will see the writing on the wall and remove their own illegal moratoriums as well so that further litigation is not needed."