One of the Country’s Last Eviction Moratoriums Is Struck Down
Boston politicians are fighting to retain one of the country’s last remaining eviction bans in the face of a waning pandemic and an adverse court ruling. Newly elected Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has vowed to contest a state judge’s ruling, which found that the city’s moratorium was an abuse of its emergency powers.
“We need more protections for renters in Boston,” declared Wu in a statement. “Our focus remains on protecting tenants from displacement during the COVID emergency, and connecting our residents to City and State rental relief programs.”
In August, the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) issued a sweeping ban on evicting almost any Boston resident for non-payment of rent. Only tenants who had been found by a judge to have violated their lease terms in a way that impaired the health and safety of other building tenants and neighbors could be removed under the order.
The city’s moratorium was issued just a few days after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal eviction ban that had been issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A Massachusetts ban on evictions, imposed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, was allowed to expire in October.
Boston’s moratorium immediately proved controversial. Landlord groups argued it was a usurpation of the state’s powers to regulate housing and landlord-tenant matters. Even some housing activists, while supportive of the policy, worried that it would be vulnerable to legal challenges.
A landlord and a constable eventually sued.
BPHC argued in response to their lawsuit that its own eviction moratorium was necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and was therefore justified by state public health laws that gave it the power to craft “reasonable public health regulations” to combat communicable diseases.
In a Monday decision, Housing Court Judge Irene Bagdoian firmly rejected this argument, saying that nothing in the statutes cited by BPHC would suggest that an eviction moratorium that overrides state landlord-tenant law was “reasonable.”
“This court perceives great mischief in allowing a municipality or one of its agencies to exceed its powers,” wrote Bagdoian. She notes that the same logic employed by Boston to defend its moratorium would allow another city to use COVID-19 as a justification for opting out of state laws that force cities to allow for denser housing.
Almost every state and many localities imposed some kind of moratorium on evictions during the pandemic. Most of these have since been repealed, allowed to expire, or significantly weakened as the pandemic has waned, and billions of dollars in federal rental assistance have been made available to tenants in arrears.
Boston’s sweeping ban was one of the last of its kind.
It’s also one of the few local moratoriums to be successfully challenged in court. Judges have genera
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