Boston

Judge Strikes Down Boston's Eviction Moratorium; Mayor Wu Says She'll Push to Keep It

"This Court perceives great mischief in allowing a municipality or one of its agencies to exceed its power, even for compelling reasons," the judge wrote

Boston, MA – November 17: Mayor Michelle Wu speaks with the media at Boston City Hall on her first full day as Mayor on November 17, 2021. (Photo by Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu will seek a stay to keep a citywide eviction moratorium in place after a housing court judge on Monday struck down the policy in a ruling that called the temporary ban an "overreach of power."

Housing Court Justice Irene Bagdoian sided with a landlord and a constable who challenged the moratorium that former Acting Mayor Kim Janey imposed in August, ruling that the Boston Public Health Commission does not wield legal authority to circumvent state law governing evictions.

In her decision, Bagdoian wrote that the Massachusetts Legislature and not Boston's health officials must decide whether to implement "temporary exemptions" to the law.

"This Court perceives great mischief in allowing a municipality or one of its agencies to exceed its power, even for compelling reasons," Bagdoian wrote. The judge added: "In this Court's view, such expansion of power by a governmental agency, even for compelling reasons, should be unthinkable in a democratic system of governance."

Boston declared a moratorium on evictions in the city on Tuesday and is working to set up a $5 million fund to prevent foreclosures, officials announced.

The city's moratorium blocked the execution of evictions, with officials arguing in support that it would protect tenants from displacement and from the COVID-19 transmission risks associated with more crowded living situations or shelters.

"I'm deeply concerned about the impacts of today's decision on struggling families," Wu said in a statement Monday evening. "Our law department is reviewing the decision closely and will seek a stay of the decision to keep the eviction moratorium in place. We need more protections for renters in Boston. Our focus remains on protecting tenants from displacement during the COVID emergency, and connecting our residents to City and State rental relief programs."

The moratorium was put in place on Aug. 31 by the administration of then-Mayor Kim Janey, who said it was to protect residents still struggling to pay rent because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A city landlord and a constable, who serves judicial processes, challenged it in court.

Attorneys Jordana Roubicek Greenman and Mitchell Matorin, who filed the lawsuit, said in a statement that Boston “lacked the authority to override state law and render the court’s own judgments unenforceable.”

State lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Baker allowed a temporary statewide eviction moratorium to expire in October 2020, at which point the administration and court leaders launched a diversion program to connect landlords and tenants to emergency financial aid, mediation and legal assistance.

Through October 2021, the state had distributed $363 million in rental aid to more than 50,000 households, according to administration data. Housing advocates continue to press lawmakers to advance a bill that would pause no-fault evictions and require landlords to exhaust rental assistance options before pursuing an eviction. 

The U.S. Supreme Court in August struck down the Centers for Disease Control’s nationwide eviction moratorium.

State House News Service/The Associated Press