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.

The strongest voice of opposition came from Councilor Bill Linehan — representing downtown, South Boston and the South End — who called the bill unnecessary.

“I will not be supporting —and want to say this publically — this petition for a special law or ‘just cause eviction,’” Lineahan stated. “There are ample laws in place. … I would be all for empowering the city’s Office of Housing Stability and to have greater communication and resources, and eventually build the relationship with the housing court so that there is information on time and ready, but this matter to me doesn’t seem worthwhile.”

Data collection and tenants’ rights

Many councilors, including Frank Baker, Andrea Campbell, Josh Zakim and Michelle Wu, praised the tenant notification aspect and data collection.

“I agree in theory with this in that there are two ways this is helping tenants,” Wu said, praising aspects of the bill for empowering residents by informing them of their rights and extending the city’s ability to work on displacement problems by providing data.

Many emphasized that the bill of rights should be explained clearly in layperson’s terms.

In response to a question from Councilor Ayanna Pressley, Dillon said currently the city does not have steps to respond to any bad-acting landlords revealed through the data collection but that having the information is the first step.

The question of rent

One spot of high concern was that the bill falls short of protecting tenants from receiving dramatic rent hikes once their lease expires.

Councilor Campbell noted that with no enforcement mechanism, it would be difficult for the city to prevent landlords from multiplying rents between leases and mass evicting a building’s tenants. However, she cautioned that she did not necessarily think there should be penalties to landlords who act this way.

Sal LaMattina also highlighted the lack of protection to tenants whose rents are raised once their lease expires, and Zakim commented similarly, noting that the measure fails to tackle a key driver of displacement.

“I’m concerned about the illusionary nature of some of the protection, if someone can just say, ‘Your rent was $1,800/last month, I’ll make $4,500 a month,’ and someone is having a hard time paying it and that’s a just cause for eviction,” Zakim said.

“That’s allowed,” Dillon admitted.

Even less dramatic rent increases are creating tangible burdens, Councilor Tito Jackson said.

“We’re finding $200 [more in rent] pushes someone out of their residency and the city of Boston,” Jackson said.

Meanwhile, Councilor O’Malley said he would have opposed any rent control measures, and Baker said rent control would undermine the financial survival of small middle-class landlords by limiting their rental incomes to an extent that made property ownership untenable.

“I remember rent control. … It used to be when you bought a property, a lot of times the rents wouldn’t even cover the mortgage,” Baker said. He added that he fears any aspect of this bill that could restrict responsible landlords from relying on their property investment for income, and said that even if the bill exempts landlords who own fewer than seven units, such a measure could be undone in the future.