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Authority v. Y.A.

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

May 10, 2019


          Heard: January 7, 2019.

         Summary Process. Complaint filed in the Eastern Division of the Housing Court Department on June 9, 2014.

          A motion to issue execution, filed on December 11, 2017, was heard by Jeffrey M. Winik, J. The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court.

          Julia E. Devanthery for the tenant.

          Michael J. Louis (Angela Marcolina also present) for the landlord.

         The following submitted briefs for amici curiae:

          Sandra S. Park, Linda S. Morris, & Lenora M. Lapidus, of New York, Katherine E. Walz & Emily J. Coffey, of Illinois, Karlo Ng & Renee Williams, of California, & Ruth A. Bourquin for American Civil Liberties Union & others.

          Richard M.W. Bauer, Jamie Ann Sabino, Kristyn M. Bunce DeFilipp, Michael J. Licker, & Rachel L. Davidson for Massachusetts Domestic Violence and Housing Advocates.

          Caitlin P. Milone & Jeffrey C. Turk for Greater Boston Real Estate Board & another.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher, & Kafker, JJ.

          BUDD, J.

         The Federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), as amended, is a comprehensive statute designed to combat violence against women in its many forms. See 34 U.S.C. §§ 12291 et seq.[1]Among other safeguards provided by VAWA, the statute, as reauthorized in 2013 and implemented by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations, protects tenants or otherwise qualified applicants of housing assistance under a covered housing program[2] from being denied or evicted from housing "on the basis that the applicant or tenant is or has been a victim of domestic violence."[3] 34 U.S.C. § 12491(b)(1). See 24 C.F.R. § 5.2005(b).

         Here, Y.A., an alleged victim of domestic violence, appealed from a lower court judge's order of execution on the fifth agreement for judgment between Y.A. and the Boston Housing Authority (BHA), a covered housing provider.[4]'[5] Y.A. argued that the motion judge failed to consider whether the alleged breach of the agreement for judgment was a direct result of domestic violence. On April 16, 2019, we issued an order to the Eastern Division of the Housing Court Department: "The January 12, 2018, order allowing the [BHA's] motion to issue execution is reversed. The matter is remanded to the Housing Court for further proceedings consistent with the opinion to follow." This opinion sets forth the reasons for the order.[6]


         Y.A. has resided in the BHA's subsidized housing since October 2013. Following nonpayment of rent, [7] the BHA served Y.A. with a notice to quit on March 27, 2014.[8] On June 9, 2014, the BHA initiated a summary process (eviction) action in the Housing Court.[9]

         On the hearing date, the parties entered into an agreement for judgment, which suspended the eviction action on the condition that Y.A. make a fixed monthly payment for use and occupancy and for rent arrearage. The parties agreed that if Y.A. failed to adhere to the payment schedule, the BHA could revive the eviction process by moving for the issuance of execution for possession of the premises, and damages owed, including costs and interest.

         Y.A. failed to make the required payments under the agreement, [10] and BHA moved for an issuance of execution. On September 10, 2014, the parties entered into an amended agreement for judgment with new payment terms. Over the course of the following three years, the parties entered into a total of five agreements for judgment, each precipitated by Y.A.'s failure to adhere to the agreed-upon payments and the BHA's motions for issuance of execution. After Y.A. violated the fifth agreement, the BHA filed the instant motion for issuance of execution on December 11, 2017.

         A hearing on the motion was held on January 10, 2018, at which time Y.A. stated that she was working with an agency to help pay the rent arrearage. When asked by the judge why she had made only one payment since the date of the final agreement, Y.A. responded:

"I was in an abus[ive] relationship. He would take everything from me. One day I decide[d] to stop that. I called the police on him. I'm . . . trying to deal with a restraining order, and now I'm trying to get back all my life together because I do not want to be in a relationship like that. He would take -- I've lost everything already. I'm about to lose my apartment. I don't want that."

         The judge then asked Y.A. if she had spoken to the property manager at any point about the abusive relationship after she signed the final agreement, to which Y.A. responded: "No. . . . I go in the office one time, but, after that, I tried to figure it out like how I'm going to pay the rent and how I'm going to do all this."

         The judge allowed the BHA's motion, finding that Y.A.'s failure to make the required payments set forth in the final agreement constituted a violation of a material term of the agreement and that the BHA had "acted reasonably and cannot be expected to do any more." See G. L. c. 239, § 10. The judge made no reference to Y.A.'s statements regarding the alleged abusive ...

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