Northampton City Council backs legislation supporting tenants facing eviction

  • The Massachusetts State House in Boston FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/12/2019 2:25:22 PM
Modified: 7/12/2019 2:25:08 PM

NORTHAMPTON – The City Council passed a resolution Thursday supporting legislation that would grant tenants the right to counsel in eviction cases, as well as seal eviction records.

“I think everyone should have a right to counsel on any legal situation,” said Ward 4 City Councilor Gina-Louise Sciarra, the resolution's co-sponsor.

The resolution passed unanimously on first and second reading after councilors voted to allow for two votes of the resolution at its meeting in the Council Chambers of the Puchalski Municipal Building. 

Currently, in the commonwealth, tenants in eviction cases do not have a right to counsel. 

The resolution notes that more than 40,000 households in the state had eviction notices filed against them last year.

Speaking in favor of the resolution was Jennifer Dieringer, of Community Legal Aid, who said the organization has to turn away about half of the eligible people who go to it for help in eviction cases.

“Over 90 percent of Massachusetts tenants across the state are unrepresented,” said Dieringer. “They have to go to court and represent themselves in eviction cases.”

Joel Feldman, who represents tenants in housing court, said that 5,738 evictions were filed last year in Western Housing Court, which covers Northampton.

The bills on the right to counsel for tenants in eviction cases that the resolution backs are  S.913, H.3456 and H.1537. 

The resolution also supports legislation that would seal eviction records until the cases are resolved, and only if they are resolved against a tenant.

Pamela Schwartz, a former city councilor and current director of the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness, told the council that the consequences of having an eviction notice on one’s record are severe and lifelong, and directly contribute to homelessness.

“It is like a scarlet E across these people’s foreheads,” Schwartz said. 

“You are condemned just by someone sending you an eviction notice,” said At-Large City Councilor William Dwight, the resolution’s other co-sponsor. “It doesn’t even get adjudicated at that point.”

The bills on eviction sealing the resolution supports are S.824 and H.3566.

In other action, councilors also passed a resolution on second reading supporting legislation that would eliminate the religious exemption for childhood vaccinations.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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