September 16, 2019:- Today the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) announced a decision that gives landlords cause to rejoice.
Following motion by a landlord, a court has statutory and equitable authority… to order a tenant at sufferance to make interim use and occupancy payments during the pendency of an eviction action.
On behalf of MassLandlords, I submitted an amicus brief in the case, Davis v. Comerford, and my main worry was that the court would set an unrealistic threshold for landlords to meet before a rent-escrow order could issue. That worry was misplaced, I am relieved to say. Instead of following the advice of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and requiring landlords to show the threat of “irreparable harm,” (i.e. harm that money cannot fix) the SJC tells judges which factors to take int account and to then engage in an “overall balancing of the equities.”
The first factor?
[T]ime lost in regaining [real property] from a party in illegal possession can represent an irreplaceable loss to the owner.
The other factors in the non-exhaustive list of factors that the judge should weigh are;
- Amount of rent owed;
- Number of months with no payments/partial payments;
- Landlord’s monthly obligations;
- Whether landlord faces the threat of foreclosure;
- Tenant’s likelihood of success on the merits of defenses/counterclaims;
- Whether tenant has been withholding rent because of conditions, or has repaired and deducted cost from rent;
- Whether code violations are de minimis or substantial;
- Whether tenant is indigent.
In addition to making clear that judges can order rent escrow and not setting an impossibly high bar for landlords, the SJC said this:
We further conclude that payment into an escrow account maintained by the court or counsel for one of the parties typically will provide sufficient protection to a landlord, but we clarify that a judge may order payments directly to a landlord if certain additional factors are present, such as where the landlord demonstrates that use and occupancy payments are necessary for the landlord to pay a mortgage on the premises or meet other pressing financial obligations.
For the slip opinion of the Davis v. Comerford decision click here.