Housing Committee to hear testimony for Tenant Protection Act and other key bills

On Tuesday, January 14, the Joint Committee on Housing will hear public comment on H.3924, "An Act enabling local options for tenant protections," legislation filed by Reps. Mike Connolly and Nika Elugardo and co-sponsored by 17 others from around the Commonwealth.

Public testimony will begin at 10:30 am in room A1/A2. Elected officials are expected to be heard at 1 pm. Also at 1 pm, several housing justice groups have organized a rally on the front steps of the State House. Reps. Connolly and Elugardo are expecting to testify circa 1:45 pm, and the hearing is scheduled to run until 3 pm.

In addition to the Tenant Protection Act, several other important housing-related bills are on the agenda. Rep. Connolly is a proud co-sponsor of several of these bills, including:

  • H.1264, An Act to further provide a rental arrearage program (filed by Rep. Decker).
  • H.1315, An Act to preserve affordable housing through a local option tenant's right to purchase (filed by Rep. Provost).
  • H.1316An Act relative to the stabilization of rents in towns and cities facing distress in the housing market (filed by Rep. Rogers).
  • S.773An Act supporting affordable housing with a local option for a fee to be applied to certain real estate transactions (filed by Sen. Boncore). This is the Senate version of H.1769, a local option real estate transfer fee bill filed by Rep. Connolly (and co-sponsored by 37 others) that was recently reported on favorably by the Joint Committee on Municipalities.

Overview of the Tenant Protection Act (H.3924)

This bill will repeal the statewide ban on local rent control ordinances by striking all of the text of M.G.L. Ch. 40P, the Massachusetts Rent Control Prohibition Act of 1994, and replacing it with a new law called the Tenant Protection Act. Here's a section-by-section summary of our bill:

Emergency Preamble

Whereas, The deferred operation of this act would tend to defeat its purpose, which is to establish forthwith local options for tenant and foreclosure protections to alleviate homelessness, displacement and heavy rent-burden, which constitute an ongoing housing emergency, therefore it is hereby declared to be an emergency law, necessary for the immediate preservation of the public health and convenience.

Section 1 — Purpose of the Tenant Protection Act

The purpose of this chapter is to provide municipalities with a variety of flexible options to help address the housing emergency in a locally appropriate manner.

Section 2 — General Court Findings

The General Court hereby finds and declares that homelessness, displacement, foreclosure and excessive rent burden are commonplace throughout the Commonwealth. This housing emergency impacts all but the wealthiest of the Commonwealth’s residents.

Section 3 — Local Acceptance of Any Section

The bill is designed as a "menu of options." Accordingly, a city or town may accept any of the sections of the bill, and a city or town that has accepted a section may, in like manner, revoke its acceptance.

Section 4 — Plenary Power for Local Rent and Eviction Regulation

A city or town may regulate the rent and eviction of tenants in multi-family housing and provide for reasonable exemptions from such regulation.

All owner-occupied buildings of three units or less would be automatically exempt from the definition of multi-family housing, and municipalities would be empowered to craft broader exemptions. 

Section 5 — Mobile Home Community Rent Regulation

At present, several municipalities in the Commonwealth have rent control for certain mobile homes. This section would allow other municipalities to flexibly regulate rents of manufactured dwellings (i.e mobile homes).

Section 6 — Condominium Conversion Protections

At present, there are some condominium conversion protections in some communities. This section would further empower municipalities to regulate the conversion of housing into condominiums via a condominium review board with optional mechanisms, including: conversion hearings, conversion permits, tenant notification requirements, relocation costs for tenants, and others.

Section 7 — Just Cause Eviction Protections

Subject to any additional local exemptions, a landlord may be limited in its ability to evict tenants without a just cause (i.e failure to pay rent, damage to the unit, illegal activity, etc.).

Section 8 — Brooks Act Notice Provisions and Foreclosure Protections

Requires landlords serving notices to quit or lease non-renewal to tenants to simultaneously inform the tenant with a notice of their basic housing rights and a list of resources as well as inform the city. This section is based on provisions of the Brooks Act, a home rule petition by the City of Boston circa 2017-2018.

Section 9 — Roll Back Protection from Immediate Rent Increases

A municipality choosing to adopt any of the protections found in this Act is also empowered to look back 12 months to ensure rents aren't raised in an attempt to defeat the purpose of this Act. 

Section 10 — Limitation on Upfront Costs

A municipality may regulate tenancy fees and deposits including by requiring a landlord to offer an installment plan for certain upfront costs. For example, a city or town could require that tenants are given the option of paying their last month's rent and security deposit as part of an installment agreement over a period of six months.

Section 11 — Anti-Displacement Zones

A municipality may designate a specific area(s) of particular vulnerability to displacement and chose to implement enhanced protections in that area, and a community organization may petition the municipality for the establishment of such an anti-displacement zone.

Rep. Connolly's statement in support of the Tenant Protection Act

Massachusetts faces a housing emergency. Across the Commonwealth, tenants are grappling with unsustainable rent hikes and living in fear of economic eviction, homelessness, and displacement.

The causes of this emergency are as varied as they are complex. Key drivers include wealth and income inequality, racism, a broken economic system, and decades of austerity on the federal and state levels, along with restrictive zoning laws and real estate speculation.

Clearly, this situation requires a comprehensive response. Housing production, tenant protections, new revenues, public investment, transportation and infrastructure improvements, and a focus on ending homelessness can all help us achieve the moral imperative of "housing for all."

The need for tenant protections is particularly urgent. On the individual level, displacement causes trauma and can lead to negative health impacts like high blood pressure and depression. And once a neighborhood experiences wholesale displacement of working class families and people of color, it is harder to achieve diversity and a sense of inclusiveness.

Unfortunately, Massachusetts law prohibits municipalities from considering even basic tenant protection or rent stabilization ordinances. That’s why I joined with Representative Nika Elugardo to file legislation providing those options. Over the past year, we have worked in partnership with our constituents and local tenant advocacy groups to draft this bill and advocate for its concepts.

Our bill, H.3924, the "Tenant Protection Act," would repeal the statewide rent control ban and provide municipalities flexible options to prevent displacement. It exempts owner-occupied buildings of three units or less, and enables municipalities to craft further exemptions. It gives municipalities the choice to implement various tenant protections, such as rent-stabilizing regulations, just-cause eviction protections, stronger condominium conversion and foreclosure protections, anti-displacement zones, and options to help tenants manage upfront leasing costs.

In the face of worsening inequality and an unbelievable real estate boom, the idea of rent control is making a comeback. Last February, Oregon adopted the nation’s first statewide rent control law. Then in June, New York State passed a comprehensive set of tenant protections. And in October, California became the third state in the past year to take major action to protect tenants. We believe our state could be next!

Here in Massachusetts, we hope this legislation helps bring all the stakeholders together — that means renters and owners alike — for an honest discussion about ways to prevent displacement. Of course, there is room for debate about how best to protect tenants. But in the face of this emergency, it is time to repeal the statewide ban and allow the debate to occur on the local level.