January 28, 2020
Honorable James Eldridge Honorable Claire Cronin
Senate Chair, House Chair,
Joint Committee on Judiciary Joint Committee on Judiciary
State House, Room 320 State House, Room 136
Boston, MA 02133 Boston, MA 02133
Re: S. 913 An Act to ensure right to counsel in eviction proceedings
H. 3456 An Act to ensure right to counsel in eviction proceedings
H.1537 An Act establishing a right to counsel in certain eviction cases
S. 824 The HOMES Act
H. 3566 The HOMES Act
Dear Chairman Eldridge, Chairwoman Cronin, and Members of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary:
We are writing on behalf of DOVE (DOmestic Violence Ended), Inc. in support of
right to counsel in eviction cases (H. 3456, H. 1537, S. 913) and in support of sealing of eviction records, the HOMES Act (S. 824 and H. 3566).
At DOVE, we believe that all people have the right to live without fear of abuse, and we work to make this a reality. Since our founding in 1978, DOVE has expanded from a crisis hotline to a multi-service organization providing comprehensive direct services and support for victims of dating and domestic violence, as well as their children throughout Norfolk County, Massachusetts and neighboring cities. DOVE’s services include emergency shelter, legal advocacy and representation, crisis intervention, risk assessment and safety planning, supportive counseling, and community outreach, education, and training.
DOVE clients often face housing emergencies as a result of the abuse they suffer, including facing eviction due to circumstances caused by the abuse. While M.G.L. ch. 186 §§ 23-29 provides domestic violence survivors with the right to break their lease and have their locks changed, it does not guarantee protection from eviction as a result of violence they have experienced.  Unfortunately, as reflected in the stories of the clients we serve, evictions based on circumstances created by domestic violence are all too common. Survivors are often evicted after they obtain a restraining order ordering their abuser out of the home, as they are unable to continue paying rent. Survivors often suffer severe physical injuries as a result of violence that cause them to miss time at work, resulting in job loss and inability to pay rent. Abusers also often cause damage to an apartment during an incident of abuse, and survivors are evicted as a result.
Our local courthouse, Quincy District Court, saw 1,076 summary process (eviction) cases filed in fiscal year 2019. This is more than double the number of summary process cases filed in any other district court in the Commonwealth. In addition, the housing court serving our district saw 2,328 summary process cases filed in fiscal year 2019.
DOVE is very concerned, based on our experience working with survivors, that domestic violence is the underlying reason for many of these evictions. The number of eviction cases in our region is staggering, and as the only domestic violence-specific legal services program in our area, we cannot meet even a fraction of the need for representation in these cases. The vast majority of survivors being evicted, like 92% of tenants statewide, cannot obtain legal representation. These survivors often end up homeless as a result of the abuse. Moreover, once eviction cases are filed against them, survivors have eviction records that follow them for the rest of their lives. Prospective landlords often refuse to rent to anyone with any eviction record, regardless of the type of eviction or the reason behind it. This makes it nearly impossible for survivors to find new housing and move on with their lives.
For example, DOVE recently represented a survivor who was being evicted for breaking a window in her apartment. The window had been broken, however, when the survivor – fleeing on foot with her young daughter after being assaulted by her abuser – arrived home only to find that she had left her cell phone, wallet and keys behind when she fled. With no way to enter her apartment or call the management office, and after nobody else in the building answered their doorbell, the survivor was forced to break her own window to enter the safety of her own home. While she and her child were momentarily safe, the management company brought an eviction case against them, alleging that the survivor violated her lease by breaking the window, even though she had offered to replace it at her own expense. With DOVE’s representation, the eviction case was able to be converted from a “for cause” case to a “no fault” case, which allowed the survivor to retain her housing voucher, and the survivor obtained three additional months to look for housing. The landlord also agreed to remove the survivor’s young child’s name from the eviction records.
Without representation, the survivor and her child would likely have been homeless immediately. The child would have had an eviction record that would have followed her for the rest of her life, despite the fact that at the time of eviction she was not legally old enough to rent an apartment herself. Even with representation however, the survivor still has a lifelong eviction record, and is having a difficult time finding new housing as a result.
DOVE wholeheartedly supports the Right to Counsel (RTC) Coalition’s recommendation that pulls together provisions from the right to counsel bills currently before the Joint Committee. This bill would guarantee representation in eviction cases to survivors who qualify, and would help to level the playing field between tenants and landlords. This bill would have life-changing consequences for our clients: with representation, they would be much less likely to become homeless as a result of the abuse they have suffered.
DOVE also wholeheartedly supports the HOMES Act, which would provide for eviction sealing. This would protect survivors who obtain eviction records following incidences of domestic violence, and would also protect their children who are frequently named in eviction cases. Survivors, like the DOVE client discussed above, would have an easier time finding alternative housing and regaining stability and safety following the abuse they suffered.
Both of these bills would have tremendous implications for our clients, and would allow them to move forward with more stability. Nobody who has suffered violence should become homeless as a result of it. Therefore, we urge you to report these bills out favorably and advocate for their passage.
Sue Chandler, MPH, MSW Lily Ann Ritter, Esq.
Executive Director Housing & Benefits Staff Attorney
Cc: Representative Joe Kennedy III
Representative Stephen Lynch
Representative Jim McGovern
Representative Ayanna Pressley
Senator Ed Markey
Senator Elizabeth Warren
 M.G.L. ch. 186 §§ 23-29: https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartII/TitleI/Chapter186/Section23  District Court Department, Fiscal Year 2019, Filings by Division: https://www.mass.gov/doc/total-filings-by-court-location-18/download  District Court Department, Fiscal Year 2019, Filings by Division: https://www.mass.gov/doc/total-filings-by-court-location-18/download  Housing Court Department, Fiscal Year 2019 Statistics: https://www.mass.gov/doc/filings-and-dispositions-by-court-location-3/download