I listened to the Audio of the Hearing of Matorin v Commonwealth one more time (thank you, Attorney Vetstein)
Here are some questions that were raised. Since this is an existential crisis I urge all attorneys on my list to offer to help atty Vetstein with research and ideas regarding the following questions and others, for example, what other states and courts have done during the Pandemic, etc. Keep in mind this is not about landlords or tenants. It’s about what country we want to live in.
1. Can the Legislature put a pause (a stay) on all (or almost all) activity of Housing Court (or any court) for a limited amount of time (let’s say a year)? Is that Constitutional? Why? And why not? The State says it can.
2. Can the Legislature take away the common law right of eviction on a temporary basis (pause it) or permanently? In ch.239 the State has already modified the landlord-tenant relationship compared to what is was before the statute’s existence. How much modifying is ok and when is the line crossed? Following that logic can the legislature force a landowner to accept a tenant that they don’t want regardless of how bad their credit or eviction history?
3. The State is saying they are not usurping the judges right to hear and decide the case, they are just delaying it which they are entitled to do. Are they entitled to delay it and for how long?
4. The State is saying landlords have access to the courts presently. What is this access and is it constitutionally enough?
5. The State says they are not taking away all remedies to pursue. So access to courts is not 100% blocked because eviction is just one remedy. For example landlords are free to file breach of contract lawsuits. Attorney Vetstein countered by saying for-cause and no-cause evictions are not helped by contracts lawsuits because the issue is Possession.
6. The State is saying that they can eliminate no-cause eviction completely tomorrow if they want and that is not an access to courts issue.
7. The State says there is no Taking because the a) tenants were invited and b) because loss of rents does not lower the value of the property (building plus land). I think the answer to this one is easy – tenants were only invited to stay until they paid the rent and of course the value of the property drops if there is no rent – just ask any banker or appraiser.
8. The State cites cases in the zoning context where there were a lot of moratoriums for over 32 months the land was not allowed to be used for development and those periods of time were not enough to constitute regulatory taking. Did anybody actually challenge the constitutionality of it and if they didn’t how does she know they would have lost? How is that different from this case?
9. Can a law have a “rational connection” to the crisis it’s trying to prevent and still be Unconstitutional?
10. The Amici said there is a SJC case or cases that basically says you cannot recover possession for the period of time during which you engage in unlawful acts that support the tenants counterclaims. And they say the Moratorium does something similar here – it basically says “there is no claim to possession for the duration of a global pandemic”. What’s wrong with that? Can the Legislature say that?
11. I think on the balancing of harms the tenants lawyers managed to pull Attorney Vetstein into their trap and waste his bandwidth to talk about tsunamis, homelessness, “the new normal” for housing court and the rest. The judge gave him a way out by saying he doesn’t care about tsunamis if the Moratorium is unconstitutional but he didn’t take it. I think it’s really irrelevant if lifting of the Moratorium will lead to overcrowding, homelessness and the rest as terrible as those things are. The only relevant thing is if it’s Constitutional. The harm to the Landlords is the unconstitutionality and that outweighs Covid and related harms by far. To put it another way what will do more harm to the public – 200,000 people dead from a pandemic or war which to put in perspective is only 0.000625% of the population (not to minimize each person who died and the tragedy around each death) OR living under laws not following the Constitution which protects 100% of the population? Covid will pass, Constitution is forever unless we stop fighting for it and then we end up like Russia, Saudi Arabia, N. Korea or China.
12. Amici is saying the Moratorium is funded. Yes, it’s funded but just for the tenants. What happens when the tenants don’t pay the landlord despite RAFT availability?
13. This was not raised during the hearing but I am sure the question will be raised – other businesses were required by the State to lose money during the pandemic, we all are called for to make sacrifices, why should landlords be any different? What do you say?
When Anna Mae Bullock was divorcing her abusive husband, she told the judge she waives claims to all houses, boats, cars, jewelry, fur coats, clothes, basically everything that is not already in her name. She had close to nothing in her name only. The ONLY thing she asked for was to keep her stage name TINA TURNER, something that she was not technically entitled to because Ike Turner had trademarked it and it belonged to him. She made it easy for the judge to say yes. If she hadn’t instinctively made that legal move I doubt the world would have ever remembered without straining who Tina Turner was.
So let them keep their Moratorium and all of their good reasons for it. In fact we should not even ask for any retroactive Compensation. Are we entitled to be paid during the duration of the unconstitutional Taking? Absolutely. Are we going to ask for it? We better not. The State can have it.
We should just ask for one tiny little thing – that the Constitution be followed. Moratorium or not.
Every time we feel the urge to argue about tsunamis and all the rest, think ANNA MAE BULLOCK.