Can I Be Evicted During Covid in Massachusetts?
The government and the courts are frequently updating the protections and processes available for tenants during the Coronavirus emergency. The information in this blog post is accurate through February 1, 2021.
The Massachusetts Eviction Moratorium expired on October 18, 2020. The Federal CDC Moratorium has been extended until March 31, 2021. However, the Federal Moratorium only applies to nonpayment evictions and you must send your landlord a CDC Declaration Form as soon as possible after you are behind on rent. Under the Federal Moratorium, your landlord may be able to begin an eviction case against you but, if the court agrees that you qualify for protection, they will not allow the landlord to remove you from your home before the Federal Moratorium ends. This means that the courts will accept filings, process cases, and may even enter a judgment against you but the courts will not issue an order of execution (the paper the landlord must have in order to change the locks) until after the CDC order has expired.
Additionally, while the COVID-19 state of emergency remains in place, your landlord must send an attestation form created by the state with the notice to quit. This form includes information concerning rental assistance that may be available. The courts are not allowed to issue a ruling or an eviction order in your case while an application for rental assistance is pending.
Both the Massachusetts Moratorium and the Federal Moratorium still require you to pay your rent, in full. Any rent that isn’t paid is still owed to the landlord and, once all moratoriums expire, the landlord will be able to pursue a nonpayment eviction and back rent.
To qualify for the national CDC eviction moratorium, you must:
- have received a stimulus check or have an income of less than $99,000 in 2020; or
- have income of $99,000 or less in 2020, or
- have income of less than $198,000 in 2020 if you are married and file a joint return, or
- have had a low enough income in 2019 so that you did not need to file a federal tax return.
In addition to meeting one of the criteria, above, you must also not be able to pay your full rent because:
- you had a “substantial” loss of household income, or
- you lost your job, were laid off, or your hours were cut back, or
- you have extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses (meaning medical expenses that add up to more than 7.5% of your adjusted gross income for the year, and no one is paying you back for them).
Finally, you must show all three of the following:
- You are making your best effort to pay as much as you can towards your full rent; and
- You would likely be homeless or have to move in with someone else if evicted; and
- You have used your best efforts to get all available government rental assistance.
If you can swear that all the sentences in the CDC Declaration Form are true, you should sign the Declaration and send it to your landlord, keeping a copy for yourself. In Western Massachusetts, Way Finders can help you determine if you qualify for aid and give you more information on the types of rental assistance available.
Changes to the Court Process Due to Covid-19
Before the Covid-19 Emergency, the very first court date for your eviction case was the trial date. You also would have been required to go to the court house in person for your hearing. Currently, the courts are running a two tier virtual process where your first court event is a mediation and case management conference. If you can’t get into the Zoom meeting or you drop the call and can’t get back in, immediately call the Civil Clerk’s Office for the court handling your case and ask for assistance. If you aren’t “present” when it’s time for your case, a default judgment could be entered against you.
At your first court appearance, you and your landlord will work with a Housing Specialist by video conference or telephone conference call unless the court has told you that you need to appear in person.
At this first court meeting, you will discuss the status of the case, explore the availability of rental assistance, determine if the CDC Moratorium applies to your case, and attempt to mediate the case. You cannot be evicted after this hearing and you are not required to settle the case with your landlord at this hearing. If you have any claims against your landlord (for example, the heat in your unit is not working or the landlord has ignored needed repairs) contact our office to see if we can take your case before this first hearing, waiting to raise your claims can negatively impact your ability to win your case.
If no agreement is reached at the first hearing, the court will schedule a second hearing, which will normally be your trial date, for a date at least two weeks after your first hearing. Most trials will be held by video conference.
The attorneys at Alekman DiTusa are monitoring the changing policies and procedures surrounding evictions while the Covid-19 Emergency continues. What hasn’t changed is that you have the right to stay in your home while your case is pending and hiring an attorney is the best way to protect your right to stay in your home and force your landlord to prove their case.
If you believe your landlord has violated the law, contact us today to see if we can take your case at no cost to you.