WORCESTER, MA — A proposal to enact a new temporary eviction moratorium in Worcester has been delayed by at least a week following an outcry from local landlords, and questions about the legality of a moratorium.
District 5 Councilor Etel Haxhiaj proposed the new moratorium to help residents during the recent surge in coronavirus cases. Renters have been without eviction protections since September, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction moratorium that went into effect at the beginning of the pandemic.
Haxhiaj said the moratorium would ensure residents have a safe place to stay if they contract coronavirus. The moratorium would last "a few weeks" until infections go down, she said. Recent public health data show that cases are starting to decline in Massachusetts.
"We're still in a state of emergency," At-Large Councilor Thu Nguyen said. "As policymakers and people on the City Council, we have to take that very seriously and look at things for the reality that's in front of us."
Haxhiaj, Nguyen, District 1 Councilor Sean Rose, At-Large Councilor Khrystian King and District 4 Councilor Sarai Rivera all supported moving the item to the Economic Development Committee for a deeper discussion, including legal ramifications for the city.
At-Large Councilor Morris Bergman asked City Solicitor Michael Traynor to weigh in. Traynor said he believes only the state Legislature has the authority to enact a moratorium.
Bergman also said Haxhiaj's order did not contain any protections for landlords who may need to make mortgage or property tax payments. A handful of landlords spoke during the public comment part of the meeting to air those concerns.
"It leans very hard toward the tenant side," Begman said, noting the order didn't contain a provision for landlords except "wishful thinking."
Bergman co-manages a limited liability company (LLC) called Lenox Investments that owns three properties in Worcester: 37 Highland St., 2 Richmond Ave. and 73 Glendale St., according to the Worcester County Register of Deeds. Bergman also manages two other companies that own property in Worcester: 29 Whisper Drive LLC and 167 Mamomet LLC.
District 3 Councilor George Russell, who owns a real estate company, also spoke out against the moratorium. He said he checked with Traynor about whether there could be an ethical problem if he acted on the order, but Traynor told him he would not have to recuse himself.
Ultimately, Bergman held the moratorium under the "personal privilege" parliamentary procedure.
The moratorium could return at the Jan. 25 meeting. King underscored that each day evictions continue, more residents may be in jeopardy.
"Time is lives," King said.