Federal Court Challenge to Massachusetts Eviction Moratorium Filed by Small Housing Providers
Federal Lawsuit Filed by Marie Baptiste, a Nurse Originally from Haiti Who Is Owed Nearly $ 19,000 in Back Rent
As the Legislature and Gov. Baker consider extending the Eviction Moratorium Act, which expires Aug. 18, a new lawsuit challenging the Moratorium has been filed in Federal Court in Boston. I am lead counsel in the case, along with my colleague, Jordana Greenman, Esq.
Local Nurse Owed Nearly $ 19,000 from Tenants
The federal suit is filed by Marie Baptiste, a long time dedicated nurse originally from Haiti, who owns rental property in Randolph. Unfortunately Ms. Baptiste’s tenants owe her nearly $ 19,000 in back rent, and they refuse to even communicate with her. Under the current Eviction Moratorium, she cannot even send out a notice to quit or start a new eviction case. If the Act is extended, as new legislation provides, she will be forced to house these non-paying tenants potentially for another 12+ months, which will certainly result in financial ruin. The second plaintiff is Mitch Matorin, who owns rental property in Worcester and has a pending Housing Court eviction against his tenants who owe him $ 7,200 in back rent. Ms. Baptiste’s and Mr. Matorin’s stories are being replicated throughout the state as thousands of small rental housing providers struggle to keep afloat during the Covid-19 crisis.
Federal Constitutional Claims
In the new lawsuit, we are seeking to strike down and enjoin the Moratorium, as unconstitutional. The Moratorium has shut down virtually every pending and future eviction case statewide since April 20, 2020. Massachusetts has survived the Civil War, Great Depression, two World Wars, the 1917 Influenza pandemic, and numerous recessions, and until now has never implemented a wholesale moratorium on the exercise of the most basic right underlying the entire field of rental housing, the right to evict.
We believe that the Act violates the following four separate constitutional rights of our clients: (1) the right to petition the judiciary; (2) the right of free speech under the First Amendment; (3) the right to just compensation for an unlawful taking of their property under the Fifth Amendment; and (4) is an unconstitutional impairment of their leases under the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Housing providers like Marie and Mitch remain obligated to pay their mortgages, real estate taxes, insurance, and water/sewer used by non-paying tenants, and to maintain their properties in compliance with the state sanitary code, while being deprived of the revenue required to do those things. With the Governor having the unfettered right to extend the Act for unlimited 90-day periods and ongoing legislative efforts to extend the moratorium for a full year or longer, this one-sided obligation and burden will continue indefinitely. Many small rental property owners, especially those on fixed income rely on rents to afford to live in their own homes.
The case has been assigned to Judge Mark Wolf. The court will schedule a hearing on our request for an injunction, likely in early August.
State Court Lawsuit Remains Pending, Hearing Scheduled for July 30
Our lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court is still pending. We have a major hearing on July 30 (with friend of the court briefs due July 24), and with this new federal case being filed, we are hopeful that two lawsuits in play will give pause to legislators and the Governor as they consider whether to extend the Moratorium and the new extension bill, H.D. 5166.
Thank you all for your continued support. We would be remiss if we didn’t post the link to our fundraising Paypal https://paypal.me/pools/c/8orbLzpxbY. We have spent many many hours and long nights on this case, as you can imagine. Our legal brief can be read below.