[Updated] Mass. Legislature Passes Bill Permitting Phone, Video Counseling During Coronavirus

The Massachusetts House of Representatives and state Senate passed a bill late last week providing a statewide moratorium on foreclosures and evictions during the COVID-19 coronavirus emergency, which also features a provision permitting telephone or video counseling for reverse mortgage transactions for the duration of the current emergency. The bill was then signed into law by the state’s governor on Monday, according to the bill’s designated section on the Massachusetts Legislature website and local media.

While the primary purpose of the bill is to offer necessary relief from foreclosures and evictions during this specific emergency – which takes into account the increasing economic difficulties faced by millions of people along with the encouragement of sheltering in place – it also features a provision relaxing the state’s strict face-to-face counseling requirements for the time being, since COVID-19 mitigation efforts and social distancing make it difficult for borrowers to physically meet with counselors.

“[F]rom the effective date of this act until the termination of the COVID-19 emergency, due to the outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, written certification from a counselor with a third-party organization that a mortgagor has received counseling via a synchronous, real-time video conference or by telephone in lieu of counseling in person shall satisfy the requirements of [state law],” says the text of bill H.4647.

The current version of the bill has gone through multiple revisions since first being brought to the chambers for deliberation, and passed in both the House and the Senate on April 17. It was signed by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker on Monday according to the Boston Globe and an alert sent out to members of the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association (NRMLA), which officially codifies the measure into state law.

Late last month, the widespread effects of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic effectively stalled reverse mortgage business from being transacted within the state of Massachusetts, since the face-to-face counseling requirement was incompatible with a reverse mortgage loan moving beyond the required counseling phase.

Earlier this month, the first piece of emergency legislation was drafted, with a relaxation of the face-to-face counseling provision being a component of a larger bill aiming to address a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions for the duration of the emergency stemming from the outbreak.

“Our first priority is protecting those who are most vulnerable, and many homeowners and renters need relief now from the economic strains building as a result of this public health emergency,” said Massachusetts House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D – Winthrop) according to local Hopkinton, Mass. television media. “We acted to safeguard tenants and homeowners from economic insecurity during and for a period after the state of emergency ends.”

Read the full text of the bill at the Massachusetts Legislature.

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