Somerville Passes Housing Stability Amendment to Significantly Expand Awareness of Tenant Protections & Resources

The City of Somerville has passed an amendment to its landmark Housing Stability Notification Act (HSNA) to significantly expand awareness of tenant protections. The amendment requires landlords to provide tenants with information about their rights and resources at the start of all new housing rentals, rather than only when pursuing an eviction, as stipulated in the original legislation. At-Large Councilor Willie Burnley, Jr., originally proposed the amendment. The City Council passed it unanimously, and Mayor Katjana Ballantyne signed it April 28. The amendment will go into effect on July 13.

A first-of-its-kind ordinance, the City of Somerville’s Housing Stability Notification Act was passed in 2019. It requires landlords to deliver specific documents summarizing tenant rights and resources when pursuing eviction. The amendment will significantly expand distribution of those documents from only tenants facing displacement to every residential tenant in the city who enters into an oral or written tenancy.

The amendment further requires that the notice of tenant rights and resources be delivered in-hand, by certified mail, as well as by email, if applicable, in the tenant's primary language. The City will produce all required documents in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, and Nepali and make them available online and at City Hall.

In making this change, the City seeks to ensure that all tenants are aware of their rights and resources at the outset of a tenancy, rather than solely at the point of crisis. It embeds this information into the rental process and makes providing these facts and resources a standard, institutionalized part of renting in Somerville, regardless of whether there is a written or verbal rental agreement.

“The HSNA amendment is a smart way to inform and empower all tenants, and I’m proud that our city is continuing to prioritize policies to keep people in their homes,” said Mayor Katjana Ballantyne. “The earlier residents know their rights and resources, the more protected they’ll be. This amendment better reflects the urgency the housing crisis necessitates, and it’s a tangible way to redress the power imbalance between landlord and tenant. I’m grateful to the Council, our local community organizations, and advocates for their ongoing partnership as we work together to combat displacement.”

“Throughout the city of Somerville, renters suffer in silence every day as their rights are violated by landlords more concerned with maximizing their bottom line than caring for tenants,” said Councilor Burnley, Jr. “It is my hope in passing this Know Your Rights bill that our residents feel empowered to stand up for themselves and their neighbors as we take steps to ensure that, one day, none of us will ever be forced to leave again.”

Any residents, including tenants and homeowners, who are facing displacement or need housing assistance are urged to contact the Office of Housing Stability (OHS) at 617-625-6600 ext. 2581 or fill out an intake form at somervillema.gov/ohs. Landlords looking for support to assist tenants rather than evict are also encouraged to contact OHS.