Last month, the Judiciary Committee of the Massachusetts House of Representatives essentially killed any chance of the passage of the Jim Brooks Community Stabilization Act, Bill H.4142, by “referring the Act to study,” a euphemism generally understood in the Massachusetts legislature to mean that a bill will languish and, eventually, fail to pass.
Had the Act passed in its final form, it would have required any landlord who owns more than six rental units in Boston to (1) provide one of nine “just cause” reasons for seeking to evict a tenant, such as non-payment or damage to property; (2) notify the city of Boston of any Notice to Quit; and (3) provide tenants with a city-approved list of their rights under state law, together with a list of tenant assistance organizations, together with a Notice to Quit.
Proponents of the Jim Brooks Act, otherwise known as Just Cause Eviction, argued that the Act would have helped the City of Boston to reduce the number of unjustified evictions (for example, those motivated by improper discrimination on the basis of race, disability, or economic status) and would have provided a valuable tool to help the city keep track of evictions. (Currently, there is no city or state funded system for data collection concerning evictions in Boston.) The Act also had the vocal support of the Boston City Council, who passed the Act 10-3 in October, and Mayor Marty Walsh, who signed the Act that same month.
Opponents, largely comprised of property owners, argued that the Act imposed unfair burdens on landlords and would have effectively constituted a return to a form of rent control by severely limiting the rights of landlords to decide who lives in their rental properties. They argued that tenants in Boston are already thoroughly protected by Massachusetts state law concerning evictions and tenants’ rights.
Had the bill passed, it would only have applied to Boston. However, the enforcement portion of the Act, which would have voided any proposed eviction that failed to comply with the Act’s provisions, required the approval of the state legislature. The Judiciary Committee’s vote marked the end of nearly three years of negotiation, debate, and substantial narrowing of the bill’s provisions, all in an attempt to garner sufficient votes in the State House.
Despite the Act’s failure to pass, the aggressive lobbying efforts which occurred on both sides of the bill, including demonstrations at the State House in the days leading up to the Judiciary Committee’s vote, display the importance of landlord-tenant legislation in Boston, a city with an estimated 681,600 renters in 2017. Undoubtedly, Boston lawmakers will turn back to the drawing board and will continue their efforts to enact legislation which reduces the number of evictions in the city.