Well, it has been two months since I provided an update concerning the Coronavirus impact on court closures and other important legal matters and unfortunately, not much has changed with respect to the court matters. The courts were set to re-open June 1st and that date has been extended to July, and probably will be further extended. Jury trials have now been extended to September 2020 and it is expected that there will be further delays with holding jury trials. The process of conducting a jury trial has presented as challenging with respect to maintaining social distancing during the trials. Attorneys receive weekly and/or daily updates from the courts and legal associations. While there appears to be some progress made with respect to having certain hearings conducted by virtual (ie: ZOOM) conferences or by telephone conferences, it also appears that the court administration must make more strives in upgrading technology to facilitate these conferences.
While the recently enacted federal CARES ACT put into effect certain protections regarding housing, Governor Baker signed a bill that bars evictions and foreclosures against residential tenants or owners from moving forward in Massachusetts for 120 days after the effective date of the act or 45 days after COVID-19 emergency declaration has been lifted, whichever is earlier, with certain other provisions. This act also covers commercial leases with many small businesses.
As many of you may be aware, on Friday, March 27, 2020, the president signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES ACT”) into law. In addition to the law providing stimulus funds for working people, loans for small businesses to carry on business and keep employees employed during this crisis and providing a litany of other protections, the law includes important and immediate protections for tenants and homeowners.
Prior to the CARES Act, it appeared that while the courts were closed except for emergency matters or matters that could be held via videoconferencing or telephone conferencing, landlords could attempt to move forward with forwarding Notices to Quit before filing for evictions in court. However, it now appears from the passage of the CARES Act, that a 120 day moratorium has been instituted since the passage of the Act on March 27, 2020 from the filing of new eviction actions for non-payment of rent. The landlords affected by the Act are landlords of “covered properties”. Covered properties indicate among other things, property that participates in a “covered housing program” such as Section 8 housing and other such programs. Additionally, covered properties also appear to involve properties for which there are federally backed mortgage loans or multifamily mortgage loans secured by the properties. This means that if the landlords have a federal mortgage on their property (and many mortgages are Fannie Mae type federal mortgages) then they would be subject to this moratorium.
This Act is being interpreted by many legal services organizations and perhaps, some judges, that a landlord cannot proceed to even file a Notice to Quit until the moratorium is lifted/expired. The language in the Act is not entirely clear but it may be that evictions for cause (such as drug activity at an apartment) or for when a lease ends and the tenant does not move at the end of the lease, that these types of evictions may be able to proceed. It also appears that if the landlord does not owe a mortgage on the rental property (that the property is owned outright), that such landlord would be able to proceed with an eviction and not be subject to the moratorium.
In addition to this massive legislation which will impact many people for months to come, as of April 1, 2020, the Massachusetts court closures have been extended from April 6th to May 4, 2020, except as to emergency matters and other matters that may be amenable to telephone conferencing or video conferencing. Still, for the most part, the courts are closed.
As each day brings new rules and regulations into play, we, as attorneys must be even more prepared to work zealously for our clients and keep up on all new developments.
THE LAW OFFICE OF DEBORAH L. GOLD-ALEXANDER
SEAPORT LANDING, 152 LYNNWAY, SUITE 1F
LYNN, MA 01902
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