A statewide temporary ban on evictions and foreclosures could be headed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, following an emergency petition filed by two rental property owners.
Mitchell Matorin and Linda Smith filed the petition in an attempt to halt the evictions and foreclosures moratorium law approved by the Massachusetts Legislature and signed by Gov. Charlie Baker in late April.
Attorney Richard D. Vetstein, who is representing Matorin and Smith, said in a blog post that the moratorium “imposes an unprecedented and indefinite shutdown of virtually every future and pending eviction case in the state, as well as prohibiting landlords from even issuing notices to quit.”
He added that the petitioners are rental property owners with non-paying tenants whom they cannot evict. They are claiming that the moratorium places irreparable harm on them and those similarly situated.
“The petitioners assert the act is an unconstitutional infringement on their constitutional right to access the courts and right to petition,” Vetstein wrote. “They also claim the act is an unconstitutional interference by the legislature on the core functions of the courts.”
He added that the act requires owners to house non-paying tenants without recourse, and that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s Contracts Clause because it impairs lease agreements.
“The operation of the act obligates rental property owners to pay their own mortgages, real estate taxes, insurance, and water/sewer used by non-paying tenants, and to maintain their properties and comply with the state sanitary code, while being effectively deprived of the revenue required to do those things,” Vetstein said. “Given the unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, this one-sided obligation and burden will continue indefinitely and quite possibly into 2021. Many small rental property owners, especially those on fixed income, rely on rents to afford to live in their own homes.”
The act has been controversial from the outset, in part due to the fact that its moratorium on foreclosures only applies to owner-occupied buildings with four or fewer units.
Douglas Quattrochi, executive director of MassLandlords, a trade association for the rental housing industry, said in late April that the association was considering its own lawsuit.
“If they made the forbearance [protections] apply to everybody, that would be a huge relief,” he told Boston Agent in April.
Quattrochi also noted that the act violated Article 10 and Article 11 of the Massachusetts constitution, which forbids the taking of property without compensation and the right to seek legal remedy, respectively.
Vetstein said he expects the emergency petition to be taken up by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court sometime in early June.