The City of Boston has proposed a legislation package consisting of five separate bills concerning landlords and tenants in an attempt to address displacement issues among low-income renters and to combat homelessness. The administration backing Mayor Walsh’s bill package are hopeful that his agenda will have a ripple effect state-wide, since homelessness is an issue across the Commonwealth. The five bills are aimed at creating more affordable housing in developments, protecting tenants by awarding them rights and giving landlords incentives to lower rent.

1. The Act to Prevent Homelessness

Among the bills intended to protect tenants is an Act to Prevent Homelessness sponsored by Senator Sal N. DiDomenico, which guarantees tenants in eviction proceedings the right to an attorney, similar to a criminal defendant’s right to an attorney. Boston’s Assistant Corporation Counsel Sammy Nabulsi stated that only six percent of tenants are represented by counsel in housing court. The major discrepancy between the percentages of landlords and tenants represented in eviction proceedings calls for immediate attention, as it has detrimental effects on the outcomes of cases. By providing legal representation, tenants will be properly counseled to avoid taking illegal action on their own. In addition, by ensuring that both sides in an eviction dispute have legal counsel, it may help facilitate resolutions of cases in a more efficient manner.

In addition, Mr. Nabulsi points to studies that show that the costs for providing free representation to tenants will be significantly less than the costs associated with housing them at emergency shelters in Massachusetts. The City’s plans are to have the Committee for Public Counsel Services (“CPCS”) appoint counsel for tenants; however, the CPCS is regularly underfunded as they also provide free representation to criminal defendants in the state. While movements are being made to provide tenants attorneys in eviction proceedings, the city has no plans to provide free representation to low-income landlords at this time.

2. Jim Brooks Community Stabilization Act

A bill sponsored by Representative Chynah Tyler and named after housing activist Jim Brooks focuses on landlords who evict tenants to develop, renovate or convert their properties. The Jim Brooks bill, which will need to go before City Council prior to reaching the Legislature, restricts “no-fault evictions” while still providing exemptions to protect landlords. Specifically, the bill would not be applicable to sober homes, college housing or landlords who own less than six residences used as rentals in Massachusetts, and landlords will still be able to raise rents. Landlords have certain conditions that allow them to evict tenants, such as non-payment of rent and nuisances; however, they must notify the City of their plans to evict in order for the City to provide tenants proper resources in that situation.

3. Act Regarding Right of First Refusal

Senator Linda Dorcena Forry and Representative Daniel Cullinane sponsored a bill providing tenants an assignable right of first refusal for their buildings being foreclosed on or those undergoing a short sale. Tenants will be allowed to purchase these buildings for fair market value before the sale enters the open market.

4. Good Landlord Tax Credit

Under the Good Landlord Tax Credit, landlords are allowed a $1,500 tax credit for rentals that rent for less than the HUD-determined fair market rate for up to six units. With landlords participating in this benefit, tenants can maintain stability with affordable rent.

5. Zoning in the City of Boston and the Inclusionary Development Policy (“IDP”)

A bill sponsored by Representative Kevin Honan is intended to change the zoning code’s Inclusionary Zoning Policy, which currently creates funding for affordable housing only when residential developers apply for zoning variances for projects consisting of 10 or more units. Regardless of the relief requested by developers, but depending on the size of the project, this bill would be another requirement for affordable housing for developments under this extension of the IDP.

While some may look at this package with a wary eye and a concern for the rental market for landlords and developers, others are more hopeful that it will successfully combat prevalent issues of homelessness and displacement in the City.

If you have questions regarding your rights as a landlord, property owner, condominium association, or tenant, we can help. Our attorneys have handled real estate matters and welcome the opportunity to speak with you. Please contact Seta Eskanian (617-936-4353, ext. 209 or email her) with any questions that you may have.