NAIOP Massachusetts Updates on COVID-19 + CRE
On March 10, 2020 Governor Baker declared a State of Emergency urging private sector employers, where possible, to limit or eliminate non-essential travel and larger meetings. To ensure member health and safety, all NAIOP in-person events will be rescheduled or held virtually until further notice. NAIOP Massachusetts would like to serve as a resource on issues affecting the CRE industry. We are in constant contact with state officials on this issue and we are actively working to find solutions that address both the long and short-term impacts of this crisis. Have an idea you would like to share or a challenge that needs to be addressed in response to this crisis? Contact NAIOP’s CEO Tamara Small or Vice President of Policy & Public Affairs Anastasia Nicolaou.
We will continue to update this site to provide the most recent and up to date information.
Safer-at-Home Advisory Issued
New Mask Wearing Guidelines and Requirements
Additionally, while the revised order still allows for an exception for residents who cannot wear a face-covering due to a medical or disabling condition, it allows employers to require employees to provide proof of such a condition. It also allows schools to require that students participating in in-person learning provide proof of such a medical or disabling condition.
New Travel Restrictions and Requirements Announced
Starting August 1, all visitors and Massachusetts residents returning home, including students returning to campuses for the fall semester, must fill out a “Massachusetts Travel Form” and quarantine for 14 days unless they are coming from a COVID-19 lower risk state or they can produce a negative COVID-19 test result administered no more than 72 hours prior to arriving in Massachusetts, or they are included in one of the other, limited exemptions.
Individuals who get a test must remain in quarantine until they receive their negative test results. Failure to comply may result in a $500 fine per day. Travelers are exempt from this requirement if they are coming from a state that has been designated by the Department of Public Health as a lower risk COVID-19 state or fall into another narrow exemption category.
Prior to travel, people should visit www.mass.gov/MAtraveler to fill out the “Massachusetts Travel Form” or text “MATraveler” to 888-777.
"Stop the Spread" Initiative Expanded
On December 21, in light of the recent rise in infection rates of COVID-19 throughout the Commonwealth, Governor Baker announced several new restrictions and targeted interventions meant to #StopTheSpread. All of these measures will go into effect on December 26, 2020 and will be in place for a minimum of two weeks. It is the goal of the Baker-Polito Administration to keep these measures temporary, but extensions may be required based on public health data.
New Business Restrictions - as of January 21, 2021
The new statewide requirements include, but are not limited to:
- Indoor and outdoor gathering limits for private property, public spaces and event venues have been reduced to 25 people outdoors and 10 people indoors.
- Office limitations will be reduced to 25% of total capacity.
- Capacities for restaurants, personal services, retail, libraries, lodging, theaters, performance venues, places of worship, museums, cultural facilities and others will be reduced to 25%.
- Workers and staff will not count towards the occupancy count for restaurants, personal services, places of worship and retail businesses such as grocery stores.
- All other sector-specific guidance remains in place.
For the most up-to-date guidance, requirements and information on the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 response, please visit: mass.gov/reopening.
Updated Hospital Guidance - as of December 26, 2020
In order to preserve bed capacity, on December 21 it was also announced that effective 12:01am on December 26, all hospitals must postpone or cancel all non-essential in-patient elective invasive procedures, unless postponement would lead to high-risk or significant clinical decline of an individuals health. Additionally, hospitals are advised not to schedule new in-patient non-essential elective procedures until further notice by the Department of Public Health. Ambulatory, outpatient treatment, and preventive procedures (such as mammograms or cancer screenings) are not impacted. In-patient and emergency services are also not affected by this order.
Statewide Rollback to Phase III, Step 1 Announced
The week of December 7, the Baker-Polito Administration announced several actions. This included a statewide rollback to Phase III, Step 1 in the Commonwealth’s Reopening Plan. In the Executive Order, Governor Baker also announced updates to the the protocols governing workspaces, restaurants and indoor dining, and office capacities. These requirements went into effect on December 13, and as of December 22, 2020 are still in effect - however the required early closure of businesses and activities has been repealed as of January 25, 2021.
- New Mask Wearing Guidelines and Requirements: Everyone over the age of 5 must now wear a face covering in public regardless of distance to other people. This means there are no longer exemptions or exceptions for when you can maintain social distance. Additionally, while the revised order still allows for an exception for residents who cannot wear a face-covering due to a medical or disabling condition, it allows employers to require employees to provide proof of such a condition. It also allows schools to require that students participating in in-person learning provide proof of such a medical or disabling condition.
The Stop the Spread initiative is a data-driven focused effort to reduce the prevalence of COVID-19 in communities that are above the state average in total cases, positive test rate, and have experienced a decline in testing levels since April. All residents of these 16 communities, including asymptomatic individuals, are urged to use these sites to get tested. While these sites are being launched in these communities, they are open to all residents of the Commonwealth. To find a testing site near you, please visit: https://www.mass.gov/covid-19-testing.
Reopening the Massachusetts Economy
On May 18, the Baker-Polito Administration and the Reopening Advisory Board released their plan for reopening the Massachusetts Economy. NAIOP presented to the Board in early May with recommendations on issues affecting CRE. Please visit mass.gov/reopening to review the full report, general business guidance, sector guidance, mandatory employer and worker posters, mandatory safety standards for workplaces, and FAQs on the 4-Phase Reopening Plan. In order to reopen, all businesses must develop a written COVID-19 Control Plan outlining how its workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19.Phases could last longer or be reverted to depending upon public-health data. A full list of industry opening dates by phase is now available and will be updated. As of December 22, 2020 statewide, Massachusetts was in a Modified Phase III, Step 1. However on December 14, 2020, Mayor Walsh announced that the City of Boston was reverting back to a modified Phase 2. Subsequently, Lynn, Newton, Somerville, Brockton, Winthrop, and Arlington moved forward with similar actions
On Tuesday, December 22, Governor Baker issued an updated order requiring that restaurants operate at 25% capacity (25% of indoor capacity and 25% of outdoor capacity enforced separately). Employees and staff do not count towards the capacity requirements.
On Tuesday, December 8, Governor Baker issued an updated order that lowered the maximum of diners per table from 10 diners to 6 diners. Maximum dining time is now limited to 90 minutes.
On Monday, November 2, Governor Baker issued an updated order requiring that restaurants must stop alcohol sales and be closed for table service by 9:30 p.m., although takeout service will be allowed to continue.
Restaurant rules have been updated to state that alcoholic beverages may only be served for on-site consumption if accompanied by orders for food prepared on-site. The administration will be taking measures to ensure that bars masquerading as restaurants will be closed.
Mandatory Self-Certification for Reopening Businesses
In order to reopen, a business must develop a written COVID-19 Control Plan outlining how its workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19. Required Materials are located on mass.gov/reopening, and include:
- COVID-19 control plan: Businesses may complete a template to fulfill this requirement. This plan does not need to be submitted to a state agency for approval, but must be retained on the premises of the business and be provided in the event of an inspection. Click here to access a template COVID-19 control plan.
- Compliance attestation poster: Businesses are required to sign a poster, attesting that they have completed a COVID-19 control plan, and post it in an area within the business premises that is visible to employees and visitors. Click here to download the poster.
- Other posters: Businesses are required to post signs and posters describing the rules for maintaining social distancing, hygiene protocols, cleaning, and disinfecting. These include an Employer Poster and a Worker Poster.
Office Space Reopening
Office spaces are currently allowed to operate at 25% of capacity. The Baker-Polito Administration has released guidance for office spaces. The guidance released includes a COVID-19 checklist and mandatory sector-specific safety standards.
Click here to review the most up-to-date office standards.
On May 28, Mayor Marty Walsh announced a new framework for all office spaces located within Boston. This framework is in place as an operational recommendation to be used as a reference in line with Federal and State-wide mandates. These operational recommendations apply to operations during Phase 1 of the Commonwealth’s phased reopening plan, and are subject to revision and modification during subsequent phases or as necessitated by public health considerations.
The Baker-Polito Administration and the Mayor's Office have made it very clear that they hope employees who can work from home continue to do so throughout this recovery in order to limit potential exposure and allow for a successful and resilient reopening.
MassDEP Releases New Guidance Addressing Stagnant Water in Buildings
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many buildings and facilities have had little or no water flowing through the pipes or fixtures for an extended period of time. In response, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has released guidance addressing the issue of stagnant water in buildings, recommending that building owners and property managers take steps to protect public health by minimizing water stagnation during these closures. The Guidance includes but is not limited to the maintenance of the hot water and water treatment systems in the building, regular flushing of the building’s plumbing system, and a recommendation to consider developing a water management program for building water systems and all devices that use water.
Commercial and Residential Eviction Moratorium
Earlier this week, the Baker-Polito Administration announced a comprehensive set of resources, known as the Eviction Diversion Initiative, to support residential tenants and property owners during the financial challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. NAIOP is supportive of this comprehensive approach to working with owners and tenants to provide critical resources to ensure housing stability. The Administration is making a $171 million total commitment this fiscal year, with $112 million of new funding to support new and expanded housing stability programs during the remainder of the fiscal year. Learn more about these resources here.
On April 27, the Baker-Polito Administration released emergency regulations to implement Section 3 of the Act, which addresses non-essential evictions, and Section 4 of the Act, which addresses a landlord’s rights and responsibilities with respect to advance payment of rent for the last month of tenancy. These regulations are meant to ensure consistent implementation statewide.
In addition to the emergency regulations, EOHED has released forms and guidance for both small business and residential tenants that are required documentation for indication of COVID-19 hardship in order to prevent the levying of late-fees on the missed rental payments. Finally, EOHED has also released forms for Notice to Tenants in the use of Advance Rent Payment and a language access document for inclusion in this notice.
Mayor Walsh Announces Housing Stability Pledge
In early October, Mayor Walsh announced the creation of the Housing Stability Pledge for landlords. The Pledge, aimed to deter residential evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, requires landlords to abide by the current CDC Eviction Order; engage with tenants to create a payment plan; accept rental assistance where available; and make rent adjustments for Section 8/MRVP families who are falling behind on their rent. This is an opt-in program for residential landlords located within the City of Boston.
An Act to Guarantee Housing Stability During the COVID-19 Emergency and Recovery
On June 30, Represenative Mike Connolly and Senator Patricia Jehlen filed H.4878/S. 2831 An Act to Guarantee Housing Stability During the COVID-19 Emergency. This bill is an attempt to enact a sweeping eviction moratorium that would have negative ripple effects throughout the entire economy for years to come. This moratorium would last twelve-months from the end of the March 10 state of emergency. Such an action would cripple real estate, creating extensive short- and long-term impacts on the housing market. Not only is a twelve-month extension an arbitrary and onerous length of time, but, seeing as we are still under a state of emergency, it could be extended far longer than intended. For example, if the state of emergency remains in place until January 2021, the moratorium would not expire until January 2022.
Additionally, this bill would impose rent cancellation and rent control, unfairly expose good faith property owners to 93A damages, and seal records of all renters, not just those impacted by COVID-19. These provisions, and others, will damage every property owner in Massachusetts, further exacerbate the state’s housing crisis, and significantly disincentivize development, the state’s best hope to spur economic recovery.
NAIOP was pleased that this legislation was not included in the House's Economic Development Bill. However, given that the Legislative Session has been extended through the end of the year, NAIOP continues to monitor this bill and will keep our members updated.
Construction Restart, Moratoriums & Guidance
On May 18, Governor Baker announced that effective immediately all construction (including office, retail, etc.) will be allowed to proceed if the appropriate documentation and safety standards and guidance are in place (in addition to any local requirements or restrictions). In addition to the mandatory safety standards for all industries announced on May 11 regarding social distancing, hygiene, staffing and operations, and sanitization, the Baker-Polito Administration released construction-specific mandatory safety standards and guidance. The requirements must be in place before reopening a site. The construction-specific requirements and guidance allows cities and towns to require additional site-specific risk analysis and safety plans.Boston Releases Incremental Approach to Construction Reopening
On May 5, the City of Boston announced it will be taking an incremental approach to broadening the allowable categories of construction. As of May 26, all construction projects may re-commence construction in adherence to safety plans.
At no time will the City of Boston permit any construction beyond what is allowed by the Commonwealth. DPW and ISD will continue to monitor and enforce the COVID-19 Safety Plans for Construction. In accordance with the signed affidavit, contractors acknowledge and agree that non-compliance with any requirements may result in suspension of termination of work in progress of revocation of the City’s permit for such work.
On April 20, The City of Boston announced new protocols for essential construction work. All essential construction sites must now submit a COVID-19 Safety Plan and a COVID-19 Safety Affidavit. To help develop the COVID-19 Safety Plan, the City has provided a Safety Plan Worksheet (available here) for guidance. The COVID-19 Safety Affidavit, (available here) attests that the contractor has created, provided to the City, and will implement its COVID-19 Safety Plan. It follows the same requirements as the Safety Plan. Failure to adhere to the policy may result in approval to work being revoked.
Cambridge Construction Timeline Announced
On June 22, Cambridge updated its construction timeline. Construction activities within the City resumed in a four-phase approach. As of June 29, all construction activities had resumed in Cambridge.
Somerville Stands by Longer Construction Phase-In
In May, the City of Somerville announced an anticipated schedule for the reopening of construction sites despite the State's reopening plan. The timeline is focused on critical projects thru 2021. As of August 6, Somerville was currently in Phase Two of their reopening plan.
- Phase One – May 18, 2020 Start: The first phase will focus on highly critical projects and contractors who have been working successfully under COVID-management plans on sites outside of Somerville. This phase primarily includes large municipal and utility projects.
- Phase Two – June 1, 2020 Start: The second phase will focus on critical projects with contractors who have less experience with COVID-management plans. This phase primarily includes additional municipal and utility projects as well as private construction.
- Phase Three – July through September 2020 Start: The third phase of construction will focus on highly critical projects currently in the design and bidding phase with anticipated construction starts in the late summer or early fall.
- Phase Four – Start To-Be-Determined (may be deferred to 2021): Additional municipal projects remain under review.
To restart projects, all contractors must submit a Jobsite Hazard Analysis and prepare a Site Specific Safety Plan (example here) with a particular focus on COVID safety in accordance with state and federal guidelines on COVID spread prevention. Once safety plans are approved, projects will be allowed to restart.
SJC Releases Updated Order Regarding Court Operations
On July 29, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) issued an updated order outlining public access to court houses and court facilities. All persons entering a court house or court facility must wear a mask and will be subject to a screening process.
On June 24, the SJC issued an order further staying certain hearings and trials and limiting court house access until at least July 13, 2020. In addition, the order affirmed that there will be no further extensions of deadlines or civil statutes of limitations beyond June 30, 2020, "unless there is a new surge in COVID-19 cases in the Commonwealth and the SJC determines a new or extended tolling period is needed) and that appeal periods on local permits will begin to run on July 1, 2020.
To access all updates relating to the Judiciary's COVID-19 response please visit: https://www.mass.gov/resource/court-system-response-to-covid-19
State Permit Tolling and Administrative Appeals
Importantly, this updated order addressed NAIOP's significant concerns with the previous order's appeals language. In the updated order, any individual whose right to appeal would have expired between March 10, 2020 and July 1, 2020 shall have until August 10, 2020 to proceed with their appeal. Any person whose right to appeal expires after July 1, 2020 will be held to the regular or statutory deadline, or by August 10, 2020, whichever is later.
NAIOP advocated strongly for this Executive Order given the extraordinary impact of the previous order on projects throughout the Commonwealth, and we were pleased to see our concerns addressed in the final language.
On Tuesday, May 26, the Department of Administrative Law Appeals, the agency responsible for due process adjudicatory hearings for other Massachusetts state administrative agencies, announced that in addition to electronic filings, it is once again allowing in-person filing as long as public health protocols are followed.
On Thursday, March 26, Governor Baker issued an Executive Order to suspend relevant permitting deadlines and extend out the validity of state permits. It applies to a wide range of state approvals and clarifies that all approvals shall toll during the State of Emergency. It shall remain in effect until rescinded or until the state of emergency is terminated, whichever happens first.
Municipal Permits Tolled
On November 12, Governor Baker signed An Act Making Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2020 to Provide for Supplementing Certain Existing Appropriations and for Certain Other Activities and Projects. Included in section 34 of this supplemental budget is the Baker-Polito Administration's language to end all municipal hearing delays as allowed by Chapter 53 of the Acts of 2020 on December 1, 2020.
The passage and signature of this language is a direct result of NAIOP's advocacy.
In April, NAIOP, together with the Massachusetts Municipal Association and the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts, worked to pass Chapter 53 of the Acts of 2020, An Act to Address Challenges Faced by Municipalities and State Authorities Resulting from COVID-19, in order to alleviate challenges faced by municipalities as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency. The legislation provided permit granting bodies with the authority they needed to conduct meetings and public hearings remotely.
As the COVID-19 crisis continued, it became clear that due to some municipalities' reticence to implement remote hearings, certain administrative provisions allowed by the original legislation required amendment to ensure that projects across the state were able to move forward. As an interim action, NAIOP was instrumental in the issuance of official guidance for municipalities by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). The guidance urged municipalities to conduct remote hearings on all applications for permits or approvals related to housing production, and reinforced that all remote hearings should be implemented in a fair manner for all types of housing, in particular referencing 40B projects.
DPU Begins Energy Relief Plan for Commercial and Industrial Customers
On June 26, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) approved the commencement of a program designed to assist companies that have fallen into arrears on gas or electricity payments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Full implementation of the program will begin after the March 10 State of Emergency is lifted and current customer protections expire.
The Customer Outreach Plan will consist of four phases. You can read the full order by clicking here. Any company having trouble paying their electric or gas bills due to COVID-19 should contact their distribution company for further information.
Changes to Unemployment Insurance Signed into Law
On May 26, Governor Baker signed into law Chapter 81 of the Acts of 2020, An Act Providing Additional Support to Those Affected by the Novel Coronavirus Through the Unemployment Insurance System. The legislation, aimed at providing employer and beneficiary protections, prevents layoffs related to the COVID-19 pandemic from negatively impacting an employer’s future unemployment insurance contributions; extends the unemployment benefit period from 26 weeks to 30 weeks for any week in which claims exceed 100,000; eliminates the 50% cap for the dependency allotment providing additional benefits to low-income families; and provides a 120-day grace period for non-profits who self-insure for unemployment claims to make their contributions.
On Wednesday, March 18, Governor Baker signed (S 2599), which will allow workers to begin immediately collecting unemployment benefits. The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development will also file emergency regulations allowing employees affected by the coronavirus to collect unemployment if their workplace shuts down with plans to reopen within four weeks.
MEPA Operations Revisions
On Monday, April 27 Governor Baker signed An Act Providing for Virtual Notarization to Address Challenges Related to COVID-19. This important legislation takes immediate effect – with an automatic repeal taking place three business days after the termination of the Governor’s March 10, 2020 declared State of Emergency.
The bill authorizes the use of electronic video conferencing in an affirmation, acknowledgement, or other notarial act performed by notaries public appointed in the Commonwealth.
- Nothing in this legislation changes the requirement that the closing of a transaction involving a mortgage or other conveyance of title to real estate may only be conducted by an attorney duly admitted to practice law in the Commonwealth, or a paralegal under the direct supervision of such an attorney.
Property Tax Update
The City of Cambridge announced it is extending the due date for Second Half Real Estate and Property Tax bills until June 1, 2020. In addition, interest and other penalties on late payments made on Excise Tax and water/sewer bills with due dates after March 10, 2020 will be waived if payments are made before June 30, 2020. It is our understanding that this applies to both residential and commercial.
The City of Boston has extended the due date for property tax bills in Boston until June 1st to give residents more flexibility during the ongoing public health crisis caused by COVID-19. This applies to both residential and commercial properties.
Executive Orders & Guidance Issued Affecting Housing
A number of Executive Orders and guidance documents, were adopted the week of March 23.
- March 25 - Department of Housing and Community Development guidance to owners of state aided low-income housing
- March 25 - Department of Housing and Community Development guidance to affordable housing operators
- March 25 - Division of Banks message to industry regarding mortgage loan borrowers impacted by COVID-19
Changes to Open Meeting Law
Land Court Issues Guidance for Remote Approvals
Extension of Professional Licensure:
BBRS Issues Guidance for Building Inspectors:
Statement from Eversource on Services During COVID-19
Massachusetts residents are urged to use 2-1-1 for information, resources, and referrals regarding COVID-19. Operators are staffing this hotline 24/7 and translators are available in multiple languages. Residents with questions can dial 2-1-1 from any landline or cellphone or use the live chat option on the Mass 2-1-1 website.
In addition, please check out the following resources, which are frequently updated, for information on this rapidly changing situation:
Congress Passes $900 Billion COVID Relief Package
- Authorize direct stimulus payments of $600 to individuals
- Eligible families would receive an additional $600 per child
- The payments start phasing out for individuals with adjusted gross incomes of more than $75,000, and those making more than $99,000 would not receive anything. Calculations are based on 2019 tax returns.
- Provide a $300 weekly federal enhancement in unemployment benefits for 11 weeks, from the end of December through March 14 .
- Reopen the Paycheck Protection Program so that some of the hardest-hit small businesses can apply for a second loan.
- The second loans will be limited to those with fewer than 300 employees that have seen drops of at least 25% of their revenue during the first, second or third quarter of 2020.
- It would also reduce the amount a borrower can receive from $10 million to $2 million, give businesses more flexibility on how they spend the money and simplify the forgiveness process for loans under $150,000.
- It carves out $12 billion for minority-owned businesses. It also expands eligibility to more nonprofits as well as local newspapers, TV and radio broadcasters.
- The second loans will be limited to those with fewer than 300 employees that have seen drops of at least 25% of their revenue during the first, second or third quarter of 2020.
- Extend the Federal Residential Eviction Moratorium until January 31, 2021.
CDC Releases Order Relating to Residential Evictions
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published an order determining that evictions of residential tenants could be detrimental to public health control measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.
It appears that the Order does not currently apply to evictions in Massachusetts, because it “does not apply in any State [. . .] with a moratorium on residential evictions that provides the same or greater level of public-health protection than the requirements listed in this Order.” More narrowly written than the state's Chapter 65 of the Acts of 2020, the CDC order would apply to residential landlords in the Commonwealth if the state's moratorium is invalidated.
This order only applies to residential evictions, not commercial properties. It is due to expire on December 31, 2020.
President Trump Signs $2 Trillion Federal Relief Bill
How You Can Help
PPE Procurement and Donation Program
Ongoing Blood Shortage & Need for Blood Donation Sites
Additionally, communities of color face unique health challenges in Boston and beyond. The American Red Cross of Massachusetts has a critical need for African American blood donors to support sickle cell patients during the COVID-19 outbreak. If you are able to donate please sign up.
To schedule a new blood drive contact Bill Forsyth at (617) 699-3808.
Those who are healthy, feeling well and eligible to give blood or platelets, are urged to make an appointment to donate as soon as possible by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
COVID-19 Massachusetts Relief Fund
Boston Equity COVID-19 Emergency Fund
Heading Home COVID-19 Relief Fund
Post updated January25, 2021 at 11:32am ET