Showing of Rental Units Also Ordered to Cease;
City Council Passes Resolutions in Support of Both Measures;
Call Issued for Rent Support, Rent Freeze, and Statewide Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium
SOMERVILLE, MA – On Saturday, March 28, Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone and the Somerville Board of Health announced an Emergency Order Establishing a Moratorium on Eviction Enforcement in the City of Somerville for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency. The order, which applies to both residential and commercial evictions and goes into effect immediately, prohibits the physical act of eviction within the city limits so as to provide for the health, safety, and stability of those who live in and serve our community. It also includes orders that the in-person showing of rental units to prospective new tenants or others, as well as any other non-emergency entry, shall cease during the emergency. In a show of unity, the City Council unanimously passed measures in support of both actions.
Previous Mayoral and Board of Health orders for Somerville have closed schools, limited events, closed playgrounds, suspended team sports, closed restaurants and bars except for pickup and delivery, closed non-essential personal services and retail, and shut down all non-essential construction. To date, Somerville has had a total of 49 persons test positive for COVID-19, 9 of whom have recovered so far.
“Everyone is safest at home right now, but that is a meaningless message if you are facing eviction. Every level of government must act now to ensure that each of us has the safe harbor of home as this health crisis deepens. Cities can’t control eviction laws and courts, but in Somerville, we can and will stop the physical eviction of both our residents and local businesses,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone.
“Mayor Curtatone took an important step to protect tenants facing eviction as well as anyone they come in contact with,” said City Council President Matt McLaughlin. “People can’t shelter in place if they don’t have shelter. Evictions and homelessness were always issues that needed more attention. Now we have to take it even more seriously to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Mayor Curtatone is also calling for comprehensive action by federal, state, and financial institutions on other pressing COVID-19 impacts facing community members.
“We have tenants, homeowners, small businesses, and property owners facing extraordinary financial distress, rent hikes, threats of eviction, foreclosure, and homelessness. The Legislature must quickly pass Reps. Mike Connolly and Kevin Honan’s bill (HD 4935) to pause eviction and foreclosure proceedings,” said Mayor Curtatone. “We also need a statewide rent freeze and more rental assistance funds to help both tenants and landlords. We need a mandatory statewide foreclosure moratorium, and a minimum 90-day mortgage grace period with no penalties, interest, or credit impacts. And the banks must be part of the solution. The American taxpayers bailed out the banks during the financial crisis, now it is time for lenders to step up to ensure homeowners and small businesses weather the COVID-19 crisis.”
The Somerville Eviction Moratorium does not prevent owners from filing eviction cases or getting what is known as “executions for possession” from the courts. It prohibits “levying,” which is the physical removal of persons and belongings. This is the one area of the process where municipalities have an opportunity to intervene in order to protect the health and safety of the tenants as well as the community overall.
Somerville residents who receive a “notice of levy” eviction order or who are experiencing a physical eviction should immediately contact 311 (617-666-3311) to be connected to Office of Housing Stability staff (for residential tenants or homeowners) or Economic Development Division staff (for commercial tenants), who will work with landlords, and the Somerville Police Department as necessary, to intervene.
The order does not protect tenants from eviction once the Board of Health determines that the public health emergency no longer exists. It is thus very important that, to the extent possible, that tenants and homeowners continue to make payments or work out payment plans with their landlords or lenders. The order does not clear any tenant or homeowner of owed rent or mortgage debt. There may be some rental and mortgage assistance available. Somerville residents should contact the Office of Housing Stability at 617-625-66000 x2581 for assistance.
The City has also received reports from distressed residents that real estate agents and property owners have continued to bring potential tenants or others into their homes during a time when social distancing is paramount to personal safety. To prevent this unnecessary risk, all in-person showings of rental units and any non-emergency work in units are ordered to cease during the emergency. Property owners showing units being willingly vacated are advised to request images and videos from the occupants in order to show units virtually or to show similar vacant units instead if available.
Somerville Office of Housing Stability staff is all working remotely through the crisis to aid both tenants and owners. The Economic Development team is working intensively to support local businesses. Community members in need should contact these offices (see below).
Information on how to apply for unemployment, cash benefits, rental support and more for those facing financial impacts from COVID-19 are available on the City’s http://www.somervillema.gov/coronavirus page and are regularly updated. Anyone in Somerville facing housing insecurity should contact the Office of Housing Stability at 617-625-66000 x2581. Please also visit http://www.somervillema.gov/OHS for additional housing information and updates. Local businesses seeking information on support available should visit http://www.somervillema.gov/CovidBizHelp or call 311 (617-666-3311) to connect to Economic Development staff.
For more information and regular COVID-19 updates, visit http://www.somervillema.gov/coronavirus and sign up for City alerts at http://www.somervillema.gov/Alerts. We urge you to sign up for every alert method you are able to receive: phone call, text, email. Also follow FB.com/SomervilleCity and @SomervilleCity.
CITY OF SOMERVILLE, MASSACHUSETTS
MAYOR AND BOARD OF HEALTH
EMERGENCY ORDER ESTABLISHING A MORATORIUM ON EVICTION ENFORCEMENT
WHEREAS, the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has declared a State of Emergency on March 10, 2020 due to the virus that caused the Coronavirus 2019 (“COVID-19”) pandemic;
WHEREAS, the Mayor of the City of Somerville has determined that the threat of COVID-19 poses a present, real and imminent danger to public health, safety, and general welfare of the people of Somerville and as such declared a State of Emergency in the City of Somerville on March 15, 2020;
WHEREAS, the Somerville City Council has expressed support for a moratorium on evictions and the limiting of entry into tenant dwellings through Council Resolutions 209936 and 209943;
WHEREAS, COVID-19 is easily transmitted, especially in group settings, and it is essential that the spread of the virus be slowed to protect the ability of public and private health care providers to handle the influx of new patients and safeguard public health and safety;
WHEREAS, the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Mayor of Somerville have requested that residents stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and the Governor has requested that the Department of Public Health issue a stay at home advisory;
WHEREAS, evictions would make it impossible for Somerville residents to stay at home by rendering them homeless and would therefore further increase the risk to public health and safety posed by COVID-19;
WHEREAS, the eviction of commercial residents could decrease essential services necessary to meet the demands of this pandemic and would further reduce the ability of businesses to generate revenue, further destabilizing the community;
The Mayor and the Board of Health, pursuant to 310 CMR 11.05, 105 CMR 300.200 and all other authorizing statutes and regulations, acting by and through its agent authorized under MGL c. 111, §30, hereby order:
1. Notwithstanding MGL c. 186, MGL c. 239 or any general or special law to the contrary, no landlord and/or owner shall enforce an eviction upon a resident of Somerville, residential or commercial, during this public health crisis.
2. No landlord and/or owner shall access or seek to access a tenant’s dwelling space for purposes such as general inspections, displaying units to potential future tenants and other non-critical activities. A landlord may only access a tenant’s dwelling space to make repairs requested by the tenant, repairs required as a matter of law, or to respond to a life-threatening emergency. A tenant may refuse access or entry for non-critical purposes or when adequate social distancing arrangements (at a minimum of six feet) have not been made.
3. This Emergency Order shall remain in effect until notice is given, pursuant to the Board of Health’s judgment that the public health emergency no longer exists.
4. If any provision of this Order or the application thereof to any person or entity or circumstance is determined to be invalid by a court of competent jurisdiction, such judgment shall not affect or impair the validity of the other provisions of this Order or the application thereof to other persons, entities and circumstances.
Douglas Kress, Director of Health and Human Services
Acting Agent of the Board of Health
Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone
Date: March 27, 2020