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 Government Affairs Associate Anastasia Nicolaou.
We will continue to update this site to provide the most recent and up to date information.
Safer-at-Home Advisory Issued
On May 18, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued a Safer-at-Home Advisory, a set of recommendations for residents and businesses as we begin the 4-phase reopening of Massachusetts' economy. The Governor's ban on gatherings of 10 or more people as well as the State of Emergency remain in effect.
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
The Baker-Polito Administration has announced an expansion of its “Stop the Spread” initiative, which provides free COVID-19 testing in targeted communities across the Commonwealth.
This expansion includes new testing sites in Agawam, Brockton, Methuen, Randolph, Revere, Springfield, Taunton and Worcester. The Administration previously launched free testing sites in Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Marlborough and New Bedford, bringing the total number of communities served, with this expansion, to 16.
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.
Reopening the Massachusetts Economy
Phased Reopening Plan Launched
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.
Massachusetts is Currently in Phase 3- Step 2 of Phase 3 Delayed Indefinitely
On Friday, August 7, Governor Baker announced that due to the recent increase in positive cases, step two of phase III of the Commonwealth’s reopening plan has been postponed indefinitely.
In addition, Governor Baker signed an updated gatherings order, effective Tuesday, August 11, which will:
Public safety officials, including state and local law enforcement, have the jurisdiction to enforce these orders and event hosts in violation of these orders will be subject to fines or cease and desist orders.
On July 6, the Baker-Polito Administration released updated sector specific workplace safety standards for office spaces and laboratories located in the Commonwealth. Importantly, office spaces are now allowed to be occupied at 50% of the building's maximum permitted occupancy as documented in its occupancy permit on record, with no more than 10 persons per 1000 SF. All occupancy counts should include customers, staff and other workers. This change eliminates confusing language that was previously contained in the guidance that referenced 50% of "typical" occupancy as of March 1. Additionally, the guidance has been amended to encourage, rather than require, employers to have workers telework if feasible. NAIOP specifically requested these changes and we are pleased they were adopted.
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:
Office Space Reopening
Office spaces are currently allowed to operate at 50% 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 Legislation
An Act Providing for a Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures During the COVID-19 Emergency
On July 20, Governor Baker extended the pause on evictions and foreclosures for 60-days through the authority granted to the governor by Chapter 65 of the Acts of 2020, An Act providing for a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during the COVID-19 Emergency. The legislation, signed on April 20, institutes moratoriums on non-emergency evictions of residents and small businesses in the Commonwealth.
NAIOP recognizes the importance of helping small businesses who have been impacted by this crisis and we are happy to see that the final bill includes language that serves small businesses and commercial landlords across the Commonwealth in these uncertain times. We are grateful to the many members who provided technical expertise on this issue.
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.
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
State Includes Construction in Stage 1 of Reopening Plan
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.
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.
For an emergency matters requiring in-person proceedings please reference the guidance issued by a particular court.
The updated order also extends all statutory deadlines to July 1, 2020. Specifically, paragraph 13 reads "Unless otherwise ordered by the applicable appellate court, court department, or judge(s) presiding over the court case, all deadlines set forth in statutes or court rules, standing orders, tracking orders, or guidelines that expired or will expire at any time from March 17, 2020, through June 30, 2020, are tolled until July 1, 2020."
State Permit Tolling and Administrative Appeals
On Thursday, July 2, Governor Baker signed an Executive Order rescinding and replacing his March 26 Order to suspend relevant permitting deadlines and extend out the validity of state permits.
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.
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.
MBTA Announces Five-Day Flex Pass Pilot for Commuter Rail mTicket
On July 1, the MBTA began the new Five-day Flex Pass on mTicket pilot, a program designed to allow greater flexibility for commuter rail passengers as employers and employees explore staggered schedules and telework policies due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pilot will take place from July 1 - September 30, 2020 and is only available within the mTicket app. Once purchased, the Flex Pass provides five one-day passes that can be used at any time in a 30-day period. This pass, available for all zones and interzones, is a 10% discount when compared to five round-trip tickets.
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
MEPA procedures were changed in response to COVID-19 and revised on May 20, 2020. The updated procedures are in place until further notice. Among other changes, electronic submittals that are sent to MEPA@mass.gov by 5:00 PM on the submittal deadline will be accepted for publication in the next edition of the Environmental Monitor. Check out the MEPA website for more information.
Municipal Permits Tolled
On April 3, Governor Baker signed Chapter 53 of the Acts of 2020, An Act to Address Challenges Faced by Municipalities & State Authorities Resulting From COVID-19. It addresses many challenges faced by local governments throughout the Commonwealth during this time and includes language that addresses the tolling of local permits and is supported by the Mass Municipal Association, NAIOP MA, and the Home Builders & Remodelers Association. The language, found in Section 17 provides necessary relief to cities and towns that, due to disruptions caused by the state of emergency, are unable to timely process and hear permitting applications. At the same time, these changes balance the needs of residents and developers by ensuring that their current permits are no impaired by the emergency declaration. The start and end dates of this legislation are tied to the State of Emergency, which is still in effect.
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.
Property Tax Update
As part of Chapter 53 of the Acts of 2020, the municipal relief bill signed by Governor Baker on April 3, municipalities are allowed to extend the due date of quarterly taxes to June 1st.
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.
BPDA COVID-19 Response
The BPDA is postponing all BPDA-hosted public meetings regarding Article 80 development projects and planning studies until further notice. While projects will continue to be reviewed internally by BPDA staff, the public review process for both Article 80 development projects and the BPDA's planning studies is on hold until public meetings can be resumed. If you are a landlord or tenant of the BPDA's housing program, please visit the BPDA's housing page for information and resources. As the BPDA’s response to Covid-19 continues to evolve, please check this page or follow @bostonplans on Twitter for updated guidance.
Executive Orders & Guidance Issued Affecting Housing
A number of Executive Orders and guidance documents, were adopted the week of March 23.
Changes to Open Meeting Law:
On Thursday, March 12, an emergency order was filed temporarily modifying the state’s Open Meeting Law in order to allow state, quasi and local governments to continue to carry out essential functions and operations during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. This emergency order suspends the requirement for public access to the physical location where a public meeting is taking place, provided there are other means of access available (such as a phone conference line, social media or other internet streaming services, etc.). Additionally, the order relieves the requirement that a quorum of members be physically present at a public meeting. During this period, members may all participate by remote or virtual means. This order is applicable to meetings of public bodies including commissions, boards, and committees that engage in policy making at the state, quasi and local level.
Land Court Issues Guidance for Remote Approvals
On March 25, the Land Court issued guidance regarding approvals by title examiners while the court remains open for emergency business only. The guidance can be viewed here.
Extension of Professional Licensure:
On Wednesday, March 18, Governor Baker signed a new emergency order to ensure that licensed professionals do not have their licenses or registrations lapse due to unforeseen problems with renewal during the COVID-19 emergency. Specifically, under this order, occupational or professional licenses of individuals that are in good standing and that would otherwise be up for renewal during the COVID-19 emergency shall be extended for 90 days after the end of the public health emergency. This order does not affect license extensions that have already been granted in earlier emergency orders.
BBRS Issues Guidance for Building Inspectors:
On Tuesday, March 17, the state Office of Public Safety and Inspections issued guidance for local building officials to identify options that would satisfy the inspector’s responsibilities in connection to administering and enforcing the state building code. Specifically, the state building code provides inspectors with the authority to accept reports from an approved subject matter expert per building code sections 104.4 and R104.4.
Statement from Eversource on Services During COVID-19
Eversource wants to reassure the development community that we are currently well prepared to continue providing safe, reliable energy and essential services while also safeguarding the health and well-being of our employees and the communities we serve. Connecting new customers is considered an essential service, therefore, here at Eversource: Our Customer Service and Engineering teams are working remotely, taking orders and designing and engineering your project. In an effort to maximize safety, joint site meetings are suspended and replaced with conference calls and virtual meetings. Individual site visits will continue where necessary.Construction will continue where permitted by local cities and towns, and Eversource field crews will continue working on projects. However, outage requests are being evaluated on a case by case basis.Outdoor meter installs will continue. Indoor meter installs will be evaluated on a case by case basis. Eversource will continue to require any and all State and Municipal Inspection requirements to move forward with energizing your facility. In addition, Eversource has suspended disconnection of service for non-payment and eliminated late payment charges. For more information Eversource’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit the Eversource website.
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:
On Friday, April 24, President Trump signed the latest COVID-19 economic relief package passed by Congress. The legislation, a $484 billion package meant to replenish the SBA's Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Industry Disaster Loans programs, as well as provide additional funding for hospitals and COVID-19 testing, is being considered an interim step to combat the economic impact of the pandemic as lawmakers consider a major follow-up package, which has generally been referred to as "CARES 2".
For a list of federal resources, and guidance on how to access these resources, please read below.
CARES Act - Resources for Small Businesses
President Trump Signs $2 Trillion Federal Relief Bill
On March 27, President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), It will provide critical relief as businesses and individuals strive to manage the economic challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill includes, among other things, an aggressive loan program for small businesses, many of which are commercial real estate tenants. It is designed to help them meet their financial obligations and keep their employees on payrolls over the next few months. The loans, which are forgivable, will provide many of our tenants with needed liquidity to keep them operating during the crisis. NAIOP Corporate has been actively representing the industry on Capitol Hill and in-depth summary of the bill can be found here.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
As you are aware, the COVID-19 virus has caused the cancellation of blood drives across the Commonwealth. There is an urgent need now for patients with chronic conditions and trauma, as well as ensuring an adequate blood and blood product supply going forward. The Governor has deemed “Blood and plasma donors and the employees of the organizations that operate and manage related activities” as an essential service. Donating is a necessity to supply the hospitals with the blood our neighbors require. Donating blood is safe and people should not hesitate to give. In addition, there is a need for community blood drive sites in the eastern part of the state. Identifying donation sites is vital to meet the demand as we go forward. Your local knowledge, suggestions of sites, and potential partners are crucial to meeting the needs of our neighbors who need blood and blood products.
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
On April 6, Governor Charlie Baker and First Lady Lauren Baker announced the launch of the COVID-19 Massachusetts Relief Fund. It is designed to support organizations assisting Massachusetts’ most vulnerable residents, frontline health care workers, and other essential service providers. Donations are needed and encouraged.
Boston Equity COVID-19 Emergency Fund
The Boston Equity COVID-19 Emergency Fund was created to support Black and Latinx-owned small businesses during this difficult time. The Business Equity COVID-19 Emergency Fund’s (BECEF) will provide no interest bridge loans and crisis response support teams to Massachusetts-based Black and Latinx businesses with revenues of at least $250,000. The BECEF will initially be seeded by the Eastern Bank Charitable Foundation ($250,000), The Berkshire Bank Foundation ($200,000) and The Boston Foundation ($500,000) and there is a goal of raising an additional $4 - $9 million. If organizations or individuals are interested in contributing to the COVID-19 Impact Fund, please reach out to Orlando C. Watkins, Boston Foundation Vice President of Programs, at (617) 338-2291, or Glynn Lloyd, FBE Executive Director at (617) 828-4228.
Heading Home COVID-19 Relief Fund
Heading Home has created a COVID-19 Relief Fund to assist in increasing support of the 500+ households in their care. Donations will go towards food and water for 1,000 people, cleaning supplies, essential household items, emotional support provided by Heading Home's case managers, and increased check-ins for all clients.
Post Updated August 6, 2020 at 10:48am ET