Creating Thriving Communities Through Land Use And Real Estate Law

Covid-19 Updates And Information

April 6, 2020

On April 3, 2020, the Governor signed into law House bill H.4598, “An Act to Further Address Challenges Faced by Municipalities and School Districts Resulting from COVID-19.”

The legislation contains a number of items that pertain to municipalities and their permitting processes. Specifically, the legislation includes the following:

  • Provisions that no permit is automatically granted, approved or denied because a local permitting authority does not act within a time period required by law. This means that the constructive approval provisions of the permitting statutes will not be effective during the state of emergency.
  • Provisions that current valid permits will not lapse or expire during the state of emergency and suspends any time limitation on such permits during the emergency.
  • Allows applications for permits to be filed electronically, so as to eliminate the need for in-person filing.
  • Suspends any requirement that a hearing on a permit application be held within a certain period of time until 45 days after the end of the state of emergency.
  • For decisions/permits that need to be recorded, the time period for doing so is suspended while the applicable registry is closed or restricting public in-person access. A failure to record as a result of the prior does not bar permit holder from applying for and getting other required permits, including building permits, and starting work.
  • Pending open hearings are tolled and continued to the first hearing date after the end of the state of emergency, provided is before 45 days after the end of emergency.
  • Permits may still be revoked or modified, but only for reasons other than that the permit hasn’t been exercised or work pursuant thereto has stopped as a result of the emergency. This will be true for 60 days after the end of the state of emergency, and extensions should be granted for good cause (the Chair can allow extension without quorum).
  • All permit granting authorities can conduct meetings and public hearings remotely, as more completely set forth in the Governor’s order entitled “Order Suspending Certain Provisions of the Open Meeting Law, G.L. c. 30A Section 20” issued March 12, 2020, as amended.
  • If public hearings have already been held, the permit granting authority can still issue decisions. The permit granting authorities can also prohibit local officials from granting permits, including demolition and building permits.
  • This applies to all local boards and commissions’ conduct of public meetings, public hearings or other actions taken in a quasi-judicial capacity.

The legislation also permits municipalities that have closed their municipal offices as a result of the ongoing pandemic to waive interest and fees that might otherwise accrue for property owners who may be unable to pay their real estate and water and sewer assessments in a timely manner, provided that the payments are made before June 30, 2020. This applies to any excise, tax, betterment assessment or apportionment thereof, water rate or annual sewer use or any other charge added.

The legislation also has provisions concerning school budgets, school plans and the ability of restaurants to sell wine and malt beverages for off-premises consumption. The legislation is effective as of its adoption and can be read in its entirety here.

March 27, 2020

Effective March 25, 2020, the Land Court registered land department has adopted new procedures for filing emergency documents by email. This is a substantial change from the Land Court’s prior position but is necessary for light of the fact that most Court staff are working from home as a result of the Covid-19 state of emergency. You can find the full instructions here.

March 24, 2020

Message To Clients

Johnson & Borenstein, LLC, remains open and operational to serve our clients. Consistent with Governor Baker’s Orders, all attorneys and paralegals are working remotely except as necessary to perform essential services exempted from the Order such as the closing of real estate transactions. If you have an upcoming real estate closing, please be in regular contact with the assigned paralegal and/or attorney. Johnson & Borenstein, LLC, is prepared to proceed with transactions in a timely manner. Wherever possible closings will be conducted by mail. Should an in-person closing be necessary to notarize documents or otherwise, we have prepared a separate physical space at our office and developed a process to maximize everyone’s health and safety. Click here for our Office Visitors Policy.

Johnson & Borenstein, LLC, has taken the following actions to ensure we are able to continue to serve our clients’ needs and protect the health of our staff and visitors:

  • As of March 16th, we adopted a remote-work policy. We were able to quickly and seamlessly make this transition due to significant prior investment in technology and cloud computing capabilities.
  • For Mark, Don, and the few employees working at our Chestnut Street office, on March 16th, we also adopted a strict social distancing policy and began disinfecting all common areas and high touch surfaces on a 4x per day schedule. We also requested all on-site employees to practice strict social distancing in their personal lives outside of their immediate families and households.
  • We are receiving deliveries only through our backdoor mail slot and are disinfecting all deliveries.
  • As of Monday morning, March 23rd, in order to safely facilitate necessary office visitors, we established a visitor’s conference room, accessible by a separate side entrance off our parking lot, capable of conducting closings and meetings consistent with social distancing requirements and maximizing the health and safety of our visitors and staff.
  • Consistent with the Governor’s Covid-19 Order #13 issued on March 23rd, we are using our visitor’s conference room to facilitate essential services exempted under the Order.

Our existing clients can be confident that Johnson & Borenstein, LLC, is proactively taking appropriate measures to serve their needs and to protect their well-being and the health of our employees. If you are not yet a client of the firm but require legal services during these difficult circumstances, please contact us to see how we could be of assistance to you.

March 13, 2020

In response to the coronavirus threat, Johnson & Borenstein, LLC, has been taking active measures to ensure the safety and well-being of our employees, clients, and guests, while at the same time ensuring that we continue to provide the same high-quality legal services to our clients on a day-to-day basis. We have taken preventative measures at our Andover office and are leveraging technology, including our recent upgrade to a robust cloud-computing system, to permit our staff to continue to operate and serve our clients with the same professional expertise and personal commitment Johnson & Borenstein, LLC, is known for. We will remain available to you throughout this difficult time and will keep you fully updated as to the current status of your matters.

Please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any questions or concerns, or require assistance.

March 12, 2020

On March 12, 2020, Governor Baker issued an Order suspending certain provisions of the Open Meeting Law that governs various public meetings, such as the meetings of Zoning Boards, Planning Boards, Conservation Commission, and many others. The Governor’s Order is intended to protect public health while allowing municipalities and the Commonwealth to continue to function lawfully during this difficult time.

Specifically, the Order relieves public bodies from the requirement to hold in-person meetings, provided that adequate alternative means of public access are provided. This may include conference calls, video conferences or other means, provided that the members of the public body and the public may interact in real-time and at no cost to the public. The Order also permits members of public bodies to participate by remote access, suspending the requirement that a quorum of a board must attend a meeting in-person.

The Governor’s Order should allow many public boards to function remotely over the coming weeks and to carry on their business and duties. It appears the practical means of implementing remote public hearings will be determined on a town-by-town or board-by-board basis, and preparation for conducting business in this manner is likely still very much being developed.