Action Alert: Help Us Remove Notice to Quit Requirement for RAFT
Please Sign-On Your Organization to Improve Access to RAFT
On August 1, the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) made changes to Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program reinstating a requirement of Notice to Quit (NTQ) for households applying for assistance with rent arrears.
During the COVID emergency, the emergency rental assistance program RAFT, no longer required a court summons to apply for emergency assistance, allowing households to access help earlier, and avoid a formal court process and potential eviction record. Owners also did not have to start a formal eviction process for their residents to access RAFT.
The new changes that bring back the requirement of a Notice to Quit for accessing RAFT, force families and property owners into taking the first legal step in the eviction process. This onerous requirement prevents qualified households from accessing needed benefits, leading to evictions and forcing households further behind in rent, putting them at greater risk of homelessness.
CHAPA, along with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) and Massachusetts Coalition for Homeless has launched a campaign to rescind the NTQ requirement. You can join the efforts by adding your organization's name to the Sign-On letter that will be sent to the Massachusetts Legislature, with copies to key members of the Baker Administration.
The letter (see below) asks the Legislature to take swift action to eliminate the notice to quit requirement and to ensure that we provide needed housing stability resources to families and individuals earlier in their housing crises.
Please sign and share the organizational sign-on letter with this link: https://tinyurl.com/raft-ntq. While we have not set a firm deadline for signing on yet, please do so as soon as possible to make sure your organization is included.
Senate President Karen Spilka
Speaker of the House Ronald Mariano|
Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Michael Rodrigues
House Ways and Means Committee Chair Aaron Michlewitz
Members of the Massachusetts Legislature
Re: Take swift action to eliminate the notice to quit requirement in the RAFT homelessness prevention program
Dear Senate President Spilka, Speaker Mariano, Chairperson Rodrigues, Chairperson Michlewitz, and Members of the Legislature:
We are very concerned about a recent change to the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition program (RAFT), the Commonwealth’s primary emergency rental and utility assistance program. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), which administers RAFT, implemented a new policy effective August 1, 2022 that requires families and individuals seeking RAFT assistance for overdue rent to first provide a “notice to quit” (NTQ) from their landlord in order to be eligible. The NTQ is not simply a letter, but rather the first legal step a landlord must take to evict their tenant. Requiring notices to quit for RAFT applications is preventing qualified households from accessing needed benefits, leading to preventable evictions, and forcing households further behind in rent, putting them at greater risk of homelessness.
Service of the NTQ dramatically increases the chances of legal action against a tenant, and has a number of collateral consequences. The NTQ is a legally required document that terminates the tenancy and provides notice of the landlord’s intent to file an eviction case in court. Once the NTQ has been served on the tenant and the notice period ends, the landlord can file the eviction case in court seeking to remove the tenant. For these reasons, many tenants immediately vacate an apartment after receiving a NTQ, and never seek access to rental assistance programs like RAFT. Additionally, many tenants - often the most vulnerable - are threatened or harassed by landlords for overdue rent but never receive a NTQ, and therefore would be ineligible for rental assistance. These tenants are often informally or illegally evicted.
For tenants who do not immediately vacate, the RAFT notice to quit requirement undermines the efforts and benefits of reaching tenants upstream to prevent evictions. Landlords often serve NTQs only after overdue rent has accrued, often beyond the current RAFT cap of $10,000. Therefore, an eviction that could have been avoided is now more likely because the NTQ was issued, and the tenant may no longer be able to access the eviction protections provided under Chapter 257 of the Acts of 2020. Furthermore, delays in RAFT processing times also mean that a NTQ period may run out before the application is processed, resulting in the filing of an eviction case that could have been avoided. This reduces the chances of resolving the case and leaves the tenant with a permanent eviction record regardless of the outcome.
We are disappointed that DHCD implemented this notice to quit requirement, a significant policy change, without prior meaningful discussions with affected households, advocates, and communities. We call on the Legislature to include language in the FY22 close-out supplemental budget or another vehicle to expressly prohibit DHCD from requiring a notice to quit in order to access RAFT and allowing households to access more of the RAFT funds "upstream", before having to begin the eviction process. Removing the notice to quit requirement will ensure that Massachusetts can build upon the lessons learned from the state’s recent experiences providing federally funded upstream Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) funds to renters during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As advocates, shelter providers, public health practitioners, and people with lived experience of housing instability, we know that accessing RAFT can make the difference between having safe housing and entering homelessness. Given the increasingly desperate state of affairs for renters, with increasing prices and the sudden drop in available assistance, this policy is causing many families and individuals to fall further behind on rent and is undermining the homelessness prevention goals of RAFT. We call on you to act with urgency to eliminate the RAFT notice to quit requirement.
Thank you for your ongoing commitment to addressing and ending the homelessness and housing crises in Massachusetts.