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Boston City Council to further study anti-displacement Jim Brooks Stabilization Act

Bill informs tenants on rights, city on evictions; officials split over needed strength of bill

Jule Pattison-Gordon | 3/16/2017, 6 a.m.

City councilors opted for continued examination of the Jim Brooks Stabilization Act — the outgrowth of anti-displacement activists’ Just Cause Eviction proposal — after concluding a six-hour hearing on the matter last week.

Sponsored by Mayor Martin Walsh, the ordinance is intended to be one tool against the displacement of long-term residents as rents rise across the city. Before the bill can be enacted it must be passed by the city council and the state legislature.

But councilors were wary of giving an immediate stamp of approval. Some said the ordinance seemed toothless, while others worried about burdens on landlords. Some councilors questioned the scope as well as the necessity of a new law.

If passed, the legislation would prevent landlords from evicting tenants without valid and explicitly-stated cause. The nine acceptable reasons for eviction include failure to pay rent, violation of terms of the lease, damage to the property, creating a nuisance, use of the property for illegal purpose and landlord recovery of the property for personal or family use.

Under the ordinance, landlords also would have to inform the city’s Office of Housing Stability of their intent to evict a tenant or decline to renew a lease within 48 hours of serving the notice to the tenant. The city would use this opportunity to mail information to the tenants about their rights in this situation. During last week’s hearing, Sheila Dillon, director of the Department of Neighborhood Development, and Lydia Edwards, deputy director for the Office of Housing Stability, said they feared that a significant number of tenants receiving eviction notices believe they are required to leave right away and are unaware of their ability to respond to the notice or the time they have to locate other lodging, should they choose not to contest or respond.

“The majority of evictions don’t go through courts,” because the majority of people do not know they have the ability to contests evictions, Edwards said.

Such notification from landlords also would give the city missing data to understand the shape and scope of displacement.

“[Currently,] we’re looking at 2015 data and at a set of evictions that we weren’t able to impact,” Dillon said. “Our hope is that if we’re hearing things as they’re happening we can get to households and say, ‘These are your rights, call us if you need help.’”

The ordinance does not stop a landlord from hiking rents between leases and evicting a tenant unable to afford the new rent. During the hearing, Edwards noted that 80 percent of eviction cases in 2015 were due to nonpayment of rent, according to analysis of housing court data and calls received by officials.

Lines drawn

Councilor Matt O’Malley — who represents Jamaica Plain, the Back of the Hill, West Roxbury and parts of Roslindale and Roxbury — came out in explicit support, stating that the ordinance provides important protections, a valuable public education element and the data collection needed for accountability, and lets the city work with good landlords. He added that would not have supported a rent control bill.