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Eviction Diversion Initiative: Legal Services and Mediation

Legal services and mediation are two tools available to both tenants and landlords during the COVID-19 pandemic to preserve tenancy.

Table of Contents

Overview: Legal help

To prevent evictions during the COVID-19 crisis, legal aid offices have hired more lawyers and paralegals to help low-income people who are dealing with eviction. Through the COVID Eviction Legal Help Project (CELHP) six legal aid programs will assist low-income tenants, and the Volunteer Lawyers Project will provide legal assistance for low-income owner-occupants of 2- and 3-family homes. CELHP is part of the Governor’s Eviction Diversion Initiative and seeks to prevent displacement and homelessness by keeping tenants and owner-occupants stable and safely housed.

FAQ: Finding legal help now

How do I find legal help?

CELHP is available statewide for both low-income tenants and owner-occupants. You can find CELHP legal help by the zip code where you live by clicking https://evictionlegalhelp.org/find-legal-help/

 

What kind of legal help does CELHP provide?

CELHP will provide referrals, legal information, and legal representation for COVID-related evictions statewide in Housing Court. Depending upon staffing resources, some legal aid programs may also be able to help tenants and small landlords in District Court and tenants who are at risk of losing a housing subsidy.

 

How can a lawyer help?

Lawyers can help:

  • Advise you about your rights in your case
  • Fill out court papers
  • Respond to quick court deadlines
  • Prepare for remote court mediation (“remote” means people participate through the computer or phone. 
  • Prepare for remote hearings and trials

 

Who is eligible for legal help?

To be eligible for free help through CELHP:

  • Your household income must be under 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (For example, for a family of four, that would be an annual income of less than $52,400.)
  • The eviction must be related to COVID.
  • Small landlords who rent out units in their 2- or 3 family home and have incomes that are too high for free legal help but too low to afford an attorney may qualify for low-cost legal help.

 

What is a COVID-related eviction?

A COVID-related eviction can include different situations such as:

  • You are a tenant facing eviction because of non-payment of rent due to factors related to COVID, such as: you lost your job or business; you have been unable to find employment; or you are unable to work because you need to care for a household or family member or you are assisting children with remote learning.
  • You are a tenant facing eviction because of non-payment due to COVID-related expenses, such as increased utilities, food expenses, home school supplies, and/or medical costs.
  • You are a tenant facing eviction after the state declaration of COVID emergency on March 10, 2020, and the eviction puts you at risk of becoming homeless; being doubled up; losing a job; having your children’s education disrupted; or facing an increased risk of exposure to COVID.
  • You are a tenant facing eviction for alleged lease violations related to COVID, including loss of access to medical or social services or domestic violence. 
  • You are a small landlord renting out units in your 2- or 3 family home and one or more of your tenants is not paying rent or otherwise is violating their lease due to COVID.

Tenants will not be eligible for assistance under CELHP if they face eviction for lease violations related to violent criminal activity by the tenant in or near the home  or criminal activity that threatens the safety and wellbeing of other residents or staff. 

 

Who should I contact if  ​I'm a small landlord and rent out units in my 2- or 3 family home?

CELHP provides legal representation to owner occupants of a 2 or 3- family home if they need legal help because they have a problem with their tenant(s) due to factors relating to COVID. Click here to contact the Volunteer Lawyers Project, or call them at 617-603-1700.

 

What will happen when I call legal aid?

You will speak to an intake worker or a paralegal who will ask you about your circumstances. Make sure you have copies of important documents, such as the notice from your landlord telling you to vacate the unit, your lease, and proof of rent payments. During the COVID emergency, lawyers and paralegals are meeting with tenants and owner-occupants by telephone and through computer video calls to discuss their case and next steps.

If CELHP staff cannot take your eviction case, there may be other legal resources available. See the Massachusetts Legal Resource Finder to find other legal assistance.

 

What should you do if you get a notice from the court?

Courts are open but are doing most business remotely because of COVID-19. That means people participate through the computer or phone. For information about Remote/Virtual Trial Court Services click:
https://www.mass.gov/info-details/remotevirtual-court-services

 

What if you are already in court and you have no legal representation?

It is not too late. Ask for a lawyer. Many Housing Courts have lawyers and paralegals available by phone or in computer “breakout rooms” doing intake for this Project. There may also be additional resources available through remote Lawyer for the Day Programs. Ask for a lawyer to find out whether you are eligible for legal help.

 

For more information:

Overview: Housing Mediation Program

New in November 2020

In response to the recent lifting of the housing moratorium in MA used to prevent eviction during the COVID-19 crisis, the MA Community Mediation Centers are offering free pre-court mediation between landlords and tenants for ​COVID-19 related lease disputes in addition to the summary process cases referred through the courts.

This new statewide Housing Mediation Program administered by the MA Office of Public Collaboration (MOPC) and the MA Department of Housing & Community Development (DHCD) is part of the Governor Baker's comprehensive Eviction Diversion Initiative to mitigate the harmful economic impacts of COVID-19 and prevent homelessness by keeping tenants stably housed and landlords from mortgage foreclosures.

To find your local Community Mediation Center across the state check out www.resolutionma.org.

Additional information on available help can be found here.

FAQ: Learn how Community Mediation can help tenants stay in their homes

What is a community mediation center?

  • Community Mediation Centers are local non-profits that help people with different types of disputes, including problems between landlords and tenants.  Centers provide services for free under the state-sponsored Housing Mediation Program for Covid-19 related non-payment and other eviction-related disputes and use trained volunteer mediators who have received further specialized training to be part of this program. 

 

What is mediation?

  • Mediation is a confidential, voluntary and non-judgmental process where a neutral third party (the mediator) helps people resolve differences based on what is important to them.  Mediators do not provide legal advice or tell people what to do but they can refer people for additional advice or information if needed.  Any agreement reached can be written down and if part of legal proceedings, can have the same force as a judgment of the court.

 

When can I use mediation?

  • Mediation can be offered:
    • before any court eviction proceeding has begun, which allows time for tenants and landlords to address issues, work out the details and the opportunity to seek any extra support they might need
    • in District Court or Boston Municipal Court, after an eviction case has been filed, but before the hearing date
    • In District Court or Boston Municipal Court, on or after the first court event (an initial judicial case management conference), based on a court referral
  • As soon as landlords and tenants become concerned about rent arrears or other housing issues, they are encouraged to reach out to a Community Mediation Center to find out how mediation could help.

 

How can mediators help during the pandemic?

  • Mediation can be delivered by telephone and through online videoconferencing during the pandemic.

 

What happens if I call a mediation center for help?

  • You will speak to a case coordinator who will take your information and ask about your circumstances.  The case coordinator will explain what you can expect in a mediation and speak to the other party to see if they are also willing to mediate.  Because the process is voluntary, both parties need to agree to take part.  If everyone is willing, then a date for your mediation will be set.  You will be given guidance about using a computer or a phone to access the mediation. If it is clear that you need additional support from a housing agency (for example to access rental assistance benefits) or legal services, the case coordinator will make a referral for you, as well as continue to help you with mediation as appropriate.

 

How long does a mediation take?

  • A single mediation session often takes 1-2 hours, though it depends on how complex the issues are.  If people need additional information to be able to make an informed decision about any agreement, the mediation can be suspended, and a second session scheduled.

 

How can mediation help me?

  • In mediation people have an opportunity to really hear each other, often for the first time, and to develop their own solutions by working together to understand what is important, what is realistic and to explore flexible options.  It also allows people an opportunity to make their own decisions rather than be told by a third party what to do.  Having control over the outcome makes people more likely to stick to an agreement, and mediation can help build relationships and offer skills for handling conflict in other settings.  Mediation is also often quicker and more cost effective than seeking a legal remedy.
  • In housing and eviction disputes, mediation can provide the following benefits:
    • For tenantsmediation can help you work out if arrears can be paid off and how and allow you to stabilize your tenancy.  It can also help you work out other issues related to your tenancy.  If it is impossible to maintain the tenancy mediation can allow you to work out a way to leave a property in a way that works for you and the landlord.
    • For landlords, mediation can help you resolve a case of rent arrears more quickly and reduce costs associated with an eviction.  You can understand how rent assistance benefits can help pay off arrears, stabilize a tenancy that worked well prior to the pandemic or help ease the transition and costs of a warrant of execution.

To find your local Community Mediation Center across the state check out www.resolutionma.org.

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