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There will be very few eviction proceedings in the Boston area due to coronavirus

But that’s probably only for a few weeks at most—what does that mean for tenants, then, really?

A row of three-story apartment buildings in Boston. Shutterstock

Massachusetts housing courts have pushed back most eviction proceedings until at least May 4. At the same time, several Boston-area landlords agreed as of mid-March to halt any efforts to evict their tenants for up to 90 days. And Somerville has ceased enforcing evictions for a time.

What’s more, legislation that moved through the State House during the second week of April would bar evictions (and, for that matter, foreclosures) until 30 days after Gov. Charlie Baker lifts his state of emergency for Massachusetts—in other words, until after the pandemic crisis passes. Baker still needs to sign the legislation, though.

The housing courts’ suspension, which took effect March 18, and the agreement that private landlords struck with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh a few days earlier will have—and are having—the more practical effect of delaying getting evicted from apartments at a time of growing joblessness.

It’s important to note, though, that the order and the agreement—and any legislation that the governor might enact— merely delay or postpone evictions. They don’t erase them. And the agreement with Boston involves the city’s larger landlords and not its smaller ones.

Moreover, the courts’ suspension includes a provision for rescinding it if conditions regarding coronavirus shift, and the pending legislation has a provision that would allow evictions in certain cases, such as criminal activity or the health and safety of other tenants.

It’s important to note, though, that the order and the agreement merely delay or postpone evictions—neither erases them. And the agreement with Boston involves the city’s larger landlords and not its smaller ones. Moreover, Sullivan’s order includes a provision for rescinding it if conditions regarding coronavirus shift.

In a separate but related move, the City of Somerville in late March suspended eviction enforcement for the duration of the pandemic. Landlords can still pursue evictions, however, but Somerville authorities will not assist them in enforcing any.

Finally, at the national level, the $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package—the CARES Act—included a 120-day moratorium on most evictions at properties that receive federal subsidies or that federal entities insure. The moratorium protects these tenants from new eviction actions for nonpayment of rent and from fees related to such nonpayment.

Note the “new” bit—it doesn’t protect against eviction proceedings in progress before President Donald Trump signed the CARES Act on March 27. For more about what housing types the federal moratorium covers, check out Section II of this explainer from the National Housing Law Project.

All of this adds up to uncertainty, to say the least, for many tenants in what’s one of the most expensive apartment markets in the U.S.