Massachusetts landlords may be afforded additional protection against tenants who violate state weapons laws if an amendment originating from Worcester’s city government passes muster.
City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. requested the city draft a home-rule petition that would allow landlords the right to terminate the lease of any occupant charged with crimes involving illegal weapons or explosive devices.
At the next City Council meeting, Tuesday, Feb. 9, Augustus will address the home-rule petition that expands the public-nuisance law.
The petition, originally proposed by Councilor at-large Morris A. Bergman, would allow not only landlords, but the district attorney and chief of police in any municipality, to bring court action against such a tenant.
“I am very supportive of this particular amendment to the public nuisance law and all of the city manager’s youth and public safety initiatives,” Police Chief Gary J. Gemme said in a statement Saturday.
“I think it’s a good tool,” said Gary Vecchio, president of the Shrewsbury Street Neighborhood Association. “So many of the landlord-tenant rules and regulations favor tenants. Often times it’s very difficult for good landlords to get rid of bad tenants. This particular ordinance would make it much easier for good landlords to get rid of bad tenants, which is good for every neighborhood in the city of Worcester, Shrewsbury Street included.”
According to City Solicitor David M. Moore, the proposed amendment would not be exclusive to Worcester, but instead would make changes to Massachusetts’ existing general laws.
In a communication to the city manager, Moore writes, “… including illegal weapons and incendiaries [to the public nuisance law] would strengthen the other sections [of the law] and provide an additional law enforcement measure.”
Previously, nuisance laws covered the illegal sale, possession, or manufacture of alcoholic beverages or controlled substances. They also cover prostitution and illegal gaming, and acts of violence against police officers and housing authority employees.
The amendment would make changes to Massachusetts State Law Chapter 139 Section 19 titled “Voiding of lease of tenant using premises for common nuisance.”
Three other sections of the statute, 16, 16A and 20, would also be amended by the state Senate and House of Representatives to include the illegal keeping of a weapon and the possession or use of an explosive or incendiary device.
At the Oct. 20, 2015, council meeting, Bergman initiated the discussion for an amendment to the nuisance law.
According to Bergman, as the law stands, the Police Department sends letters to landlords when tenants are arrested for criminal activity that falls under the nuisance laws. The letters demand the landlord remove the tenant from the building and end the tenant’s lease.
“The one thing the law doesn’t say and doesn’t include is what happens when there is a police raid and a search warrant is executed and drugs aren’t found, but guns are found,” Bergman said at the time.
“The law is actually silent on that and it creates a very awkward situation when police go into an apartment and don’t find drugs, but find guns and the landlord has no ability under the current law to do anything in housing court.”
According to police data presented by Bergman at the Oct. 20 meeting, half the time guns are found in police raids, no drugs are found.
“If it’s dangerous enough to remove a tenant when police find drugs, then it’s certainly dangerous enough to remove them for firearms,” he said.