Cullinane amendment in housing bill gives tenants standing in house sales

Rep. Cullinane

State Rep. Dan Cullinane’s amendment mandating tenants the “first right of refusal” before the sale of their homes was included in the housing bill passed by the House earlier this month.

Cullinane said that the amendment – essentially an option that municipalities can adopt as a policy measure – is aimed at halting the wholesale eviction of tenants. Municipalities that choose to adopt the policy would require owners of large, multi-family buildings to provide notice to both tenants and local officials of any intended sale. Sellers would also be required to negotiate with tenants and tenant associations before entering into sale agreements with a third party. 

The legislation is now in conference committee on Beacon Hill. 

“The language contained within this amendment enjoys broad support from a diverse coalition of elected officials and housing organizations, and this policy initiative has been a housing priority for cities and towns across the commonwealth,” Cullinane said during a speech in support of the measure at the State House on July 27.  

“This is not about preventing a property owner from selling to a third party; it’ simply about giving tenants the first shot and integrating creativity into local housing— if the city or town were to choose— that could create win-win situations for both property owners and tenants who want to stay.” 

Cullinane announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election to the 12th Suffolk District seat in the House this fall. He told the Reporter last week that his focus on tenant relief has been informed by issues in the Mattapan part of the 12th district, which he described as “real estate speculation and the subsequent displacement and gentrification.”

Specifically, Cullinane pointed to a dispute between property managers and tenants at Fairlawn Apartments— re-branded two years ago as “SoMa Apartments at the T.” Cullinane said that the management company that runs the 400-plus-unit complex “refused to engage the tenant population and slowly began evicting people through housing court.” 

Residents there have formed an association with the help of City Life/Vida Urbana to protest a trend of rent hikes and what they call inadequate living conditions. 

Cullinane also pointed to Mattapan’s Morton Village Apartments, where, he said, tenants have been trying to collaborate with non-profits to buy the property themselves.

“We are putting tremendous resources into erecting these housing units as fast as possible,” said Cullinane. “It runs counter to all of those efforts if on one hand we are investing so much, [and on the other], a large landlord undoes all of those gains by evicting tens to hundreds of working-class families to build luxury units for young professionals.

“All too often,” he said, “big buildings are sold, emptied out, and renovated to be transformed into high-income units. In Boston and some other municipalities, we are fighting to build more housing that people can afford.

“Right now, the economic situation that COVID-19 has created makes this emerging market from the pandemic all the more ripe for real estate speculation,” he added. “This consolidated amendment is a prudent, wise, and appropriate measure for us to take in combating this housing crisis.”