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    Boston Housing Authority v. Y.A., 482 Mass. 240 (2019), is the most recent guidance from the Supreme Judicial Court concerning the application of the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), 34 U.S.C. §§ 12291 et seq., to summary process (eviction) cases. Among other safeguards provided under VAWA, the statute protects victims of domestic violence from eviction from federally subsidized housing so long as the basis for the eviction is a direct result of domestic violence. Boston Hous. Auth. v. Y.A., 482 Mass. 240, 245 (2019); 34 U.S.C. § 12491(b)(1) (2018); 24 C.F.R. § 5.2005(b).

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    Survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking often have to leave their homes and relocate to a safer place with little notice or planning in order to avoid harm by a perpetrator who knows where they live. My client Olivia[i] (whose name and identifying information I have changed to protect her privacy) was raped by a college classmate. Olivia’s rapist was also her upstairs neighbor. After the incident she saw him coming and going from the building, in the elevator, and around other common areas. She was terrified of what he might do to her and ashamed every time she saw him. Olivia knew she had to get far away from the person who assaulted her as soon as possible. When she asked her property manager about moving out of her apartment, he very politely directed her to the paragraph of her lease that provided for a three-month rent penalty for early lease termination. Olivia could not pay three months’ rent in addition to moving costs for a new apartment. Frustrated, scared, and confused, she hid from her rapist by locking herself into her apartment, missing school and work. After several weeks, a local rape crisis center referred her to me. Fortunately, G.L. c. 186, § 24, “Termination of rental agreement or tenancy by victim of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault or stalking” (“Section 24”), was signed into law in 2013, after decades of law-reform efforts by survivors and housing advocates. Its purpose is to help tenants like Olivia leave their homes for safety reasons without incurring financial penalties. With our help, Olivia asserted those rights and moved out of her apartment in less than 24 hours.

  • Maureen McDonagh & Julia Devanthéry, Evictions, in 12 Legal Tactics: Tenant's Rights in Massachusetts 251 (Annette R. Duke ed., Mass. Law Reform Inst. 8th ed. 2017).

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    The link between domestic abuse and housing instability is undeniable; survivors often face housing loss as a direct result of abuse or find themselves homeless after fleeing violence. In an all-too-common scenario, a survivor lives with her abuser, but is not on the lease because the abuser intentionally withholds housing stability as a method of abuse. In those cases, survivors may have to choose between their safety and their housing if they decide to separate from their abusers. Now, however, under the Supreme Judicial Court’s (“SJC”) recent decision in Beacon Residential v. R.P., survivors of domestic violence—including those who aren’t on the lease and are alleged to be “unauthorized occupants” by the landlord—are allowed to intervene as of right in summary process cases under Mass. R. Civ. P. 24 (a)(2) if they claim an interest relating to the apartment subject to the eviction proceedings. Beacon Residential Management, LP v. R.P., SJC-12265, slip op. (Sept. 14, 2017). As a result, thousands of survivors across the Commonwealth, formerly excluded from summary process cases, will have a right to their day in Housing Court.