COVID-19 Legal FAQs for Renters in
This page has local legal information on residential (not commercial) renters’ issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not legal advice, and you should check with your local legal aid and courts for current information. Your local city or county may have additional protections for renters.
This page was last updated on July 8, 2020. It was reviewed by our volunteer attorney experts.
Its information is taken from these sources:Princeton Eviction Lab's COVID Policy ScorecardsColumbia Law School COVID-19 Eviction Moratoria analysisEnergy and Policy Institute Utility Disconnect TrackerMass. legislationMass. housing courtMass. utilities order
- Are there any special protections for renters during the COVID-19 emergency? How long do they last?
Yes, the Massachusetts legislature passed and the Governor signed a law stopping all stages of eviction proceedings for non-essential evictions. There are exceptions for evictions related to health and safety, or ongoing criminal activity -- which may still be allowed to proceed.
It went into effect on April 20, 2020 and ends either 45 days after the end of the COVID-19 emergency or in 120 days (whichever is sooner). It may be extended.
- What do the protections mean for renters?
The protections means that in Massachusetts through 45 days after the end of the COVID-19 emergency, or in 120 days from April 20, 2020:
- Your landlord cannot give you a notice to quit.
- Your landlord cannot file an eviction claim in court against you.
- Hearings on eviction are not happening.
- The court may not issue a new order, judgment, or writ of eviction against you.
- An existing eviction order may not be enforced against you.
These protections do not necessarily apply for emergency (or essential) evictions related to health and safety or ongoing criminal activity.
- Do I still have to pay rent during the COVID-19 emergency?
Yes, Massachusetts renters still need to pay rent during the COVID-19 emergency, but renters cannot be evicted for nonpayment of rent. Landlords cannot charge late fees, but tenants must notify their landlords of COVID-connected reasons for non-payment to escape late fees using this form.
Also check with your local city or county government to see if they give renters any additional protections if they are struggling to pay rent during the COVID-19 emergency.
If you cannot pay rent, take steps to protect yourself:
- Communicate with your landlord: Send a written letter or email to your landlord as soon as possible. Explain why you cannot pay the rent because of COVID-19 impact. You can also try to negotiate with your landlord to make a payment plan or get a temporary rent reduction. Get help here for drafting and mailing a letter to your landlord. You can also use this letter-writing tool here.
- Get written records of all communication: Keep copies of any letter or email you send, and any responses from the landlord. Keep receipts for any payments you make. If you make a payment plan or rent agreement, make sure to get it in writing.
- Keep proof of COVID-19's impact on you: Collect documents about your COVID-19-related employment problems, health care issues, or other issues that affect your ability to pay rent. This includes letters from your employer, doctor, insurance provider, child care provider, schools, etc.
- Check for help: If you need financial assistance for housing costs, you may be able to get help.
- Can my landlord evict me during the COVID-19 emergency?
No, Massachusetts renters cannot be evicted from their homes during the COVID-19 emergency period, unless there is a health or safety threat or ongoing criminal activity.
Once the COVID-19 emergency period ends, landlords can begin to pursue evictions against renters once again.
- You may also have U.S. national protections against eviction that last through July 2020. Check here below to see if you are eligible for them.
If you receive a notice to quit from your landlord, or an eviction lawsuit, reach out for legal help.
- Can my utilities be shut off during the COVID-19 emergency?
No, utilities cannot be shut off for nonpayment during the COVID-19 emergency in Massachusetts.
If you need financial assistance for utility costs, you may be able to get help.
Landlords are never allowed to shut off a renter's utilities in an attempt to force the renter out. This is illegal. Reach out to a lawyer for help if this happens to you.
- Are you eligible for U.S. national protections against eviction?
Renters in 3 categories have special national protections against being evicted during the Emergency Period of March 27, 2020 to July 24 or 25, 2020. These national protections add onto any state and local protections you have.
Do you fit in any of these 3 categories?Your home’s owner has a federally backed mortgage loan or other guarantee (like through Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae). Search if your home is covered.You pay rent through a federal assistance program like the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, Rural Development Voucher, or other 'covered housing' program.You live in Public Housing, where the government is your landlord.
If you are a renter in one of these 3 categories, the federal CARES Act section 4024 gives you these protections. (Remember, these protections add onto any state and local protections you have)
- Your landlord cannot file a new eviction lawsuit against you for not paying your rent during the Emergency Period. They can still evict you for other behavior, like drug abuse, other criminal activities, or other lease violations.
- Your landlord cannot charge you new fees or penalties for not paying your rent during the Emergency Period.
- After the Emergency Period ends, your landlord may not be able to evict you immediately.(Different states interpret the protections ending on July 24 or 25. Check with local lawyers to see about your state). If you have not paid your rent in full during the Emergency Period, your landlord must wait until the period ends before giving you a notice to vacate. For example, they may give you a notice on July 26, and you must be allowed until at least August 25 to leave the property.