Landlords file lawsuits claiming eviction moratorium violates their constitutional rights

Landlords file lawsuit claiming eviction moratorium violates their constitutional rights

BOSTON — A lawsuit filed by several Massachusetts landlords asking the court to halt the state’s temporary ban on evictions and foreclosures, arguing that it violates their constitutional rights, headed to court Thursday.

Suffolk Superior Court Judge Paul Wilson heard oral arguments on whether to issue a preliminary injunction temporarily blocking the state’s moratorium on almost all evictions and foreclosures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Several landlords filed a lawsuit arguing the temporary ban violates their rights under the state’s constitution, adding that they have experienced financial losses from being unable to remove tenants who are not paying rent. They also filed a case in federal court that will proceed separately.

“Just because we’re in a global pandemic doesn’t mean your constitutional rights are suspended,” said Richard Vetstein, the attorney representing the landlords.

Gov. Charlie Baker signed the moratorium law in April, then extended it last week from an Aug. 18 expiration to Oct. 17. Baker said the extension will protect vulnerable families who are in financial hardship because of the pandemic.

The state’s attorney Jennifer Greaney said the legislature is within their rights and landlords will still have the right to pursue evictions against tenants when the public health crisis ends.

“The government can, and in particularly in times of emergency, interfere with the common law right of possession,” said Greaney. “The idea that there has been a significant economic impact is speculative because there’s no information in the case to suggest that the market value of those buildings has declined because of this moratorium.”

Joey Michalkes, an attorney for the housing advocacy group City Life/Vida Urbana argued that lifting the ban would force thousands into homelessness.

“Lifting the moratorium would lead to displacement, and in light of that and in light of the harm the legislature sought to address at the times of the statue and in tandem of the legal characteristics of the moratorium, it’s constitutionally appropriate in all respects,” said Michalkes.

Wilson said he plans to issue a ruling on the case “as soon as [he] can”. In the meantime, the group of landlords have filed a case in federal court, which is scheduled to be heard next week.

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