Massachusetts Eviction Process
Any Massachusetts eviction lawyer would agree that Massachusetts eviction practice presents many procedural complexities that can be traps for unwary landlords prosecuting evictions personally. Landlords who represent themselves realize to their dismay that the summary process is not for plaintiffs who insist on doing it themselves. They often find that the Housing Court, which hears and exercises jurisdiction over summary process eviction actions, can dismiss them for unsatisfactory compliance with purely procedural requirements.
Three of the most common grounds for eviction:
- Nonpayment of Rent: In these cases, the landlord must serve on the tenant a statutory 14-day notice to quit to start the eviction process. The landlord must draft the 14-day notice carefully and should have service made by a constable or sheriff for best proof of tenant receipt. Certified mail is often ineffective as tenants can avoid service by being absent or unavailable when letter carriers attempt initial to make deliveries and then by ignoring notices to come in to the post office to pick them up. A Massachusetts eviction lawyer experienced in eviction actions should draft the notice to quit to prevent a stillborn case.
- No-Fault: In this eviction action, there is no claim of nonpayment of obligatory rent nor any other fault, simply a termination of a common law tenancy at will on a 30-day, a no-fault eviction. Again, service on the tenant of the 30-day notice to quit occupancy must start the eviction action. Landlords are sometimes unsuccessful in these actions because they give short notice, and in practice Housing Court judges are often liberal and lenient in giving no-fault tenants lots of leeway in vacating the premises.
- For Cause: Evictions for cause can be for tenant misconduct or violations of lease provisions other than nonpayment. Criminal or illegal acts, drug abuse, excessive noise, damage to the premises, disputes with other residents, unauthorized occupants, and persistent nuisances may justify eviction. As with all evictions, the landlord first must serve a notice to quit on the tenant stating the specific offense(s). Evictions for cause are the most complicated as Massachusetts eviction lawyer must present testimony as proof of the tenant’s misconduct, and summoning police officers to eviction hearings successfully is not always easy though there is a specially expeditious summary process for evictions involving criminal or illegal activity.
Starting an eviction requires the preparation and service of a Summary Process Summons and Complaint following service of the notice to quit. Either the local county District Court or the specialized Housing Court may hear evictions. In the Housing Court, fees are not so high, but there may be many more cases and so more delay. Some Housing Court judges seem to favor tenants and to rule for them whenever they can.
The summary process summons and complaint form is complicated. It must be served on the tenant and then, at least seven days later, filed with the court on or before the “entry date,” which is always a Monday. Hearings are usually on Thursday mornings. An experienced Massachusetts eviction attorney can handle the legal paperwork best.
Tenant Defenses and Counterclaims
With discovery requests, defenses, and counterclaims, Massachusetts tenants have formidable legal means to delay and defeat evictions. All tenants may make formal discovery requests, automatic two-week hearing delays, for information and documents from their landlords. Tenants also may raise defenses and counterclaims that can be merely procedural like improper notice or service or truly substantive like sanitary code violations, no heat nor hot water, failure to make urgent repairs, and retaliation that may incur punitive triple damages and attorney fees. There may be little or no factual merit to such defenses and counterclaims, but they always make the eviction process more complicated, time-consuming, and costly.
Mediation and Agreed Dispositions
On some days, over 100 eviction cases may be on the court calendar with only one judge to hear them. To expedite dispositions, the courts encourage parties to discuss their differences through informal mediation and resolve their cases on their own. In some courts, housing specialists preside over the mediation sessions. Mediation is always consensual, never binding, so if the parties do not agree, they still can have a trial.
Housing specialists facilitate mediation in Housing Court. Mediation offers landlords many advantages and is always worth consideration. In nonpayment cases, the parties can agree to a judgment for a structured payment plan or a voluntary relocation. In cases for cause, they can agree to a final last chance to cease and desist or to a voluntary relocation. The major advantage is that an agreement for judgment becomes a binding, enforceable court order that resolves all issues and shows that the landlord has been fair and reasonable. Experienced eviction attorneys for landlords also require waivers of appeal rights that would cause additional delays and demands for more time for relocation.
If mediation won’t work, judicial intervention is the only way out. Some judges hold basic hearings, giving each side a full and fair opportunity to speak. Others, particularly in the Housing Court, are more formal and conduct actual trials with sworn witnesses and exhibits. Informal hearings can conclude in a minute and jury trials can continue for days. It’s best always to be prepared for trial and to have witnesses present in court or on ready standby.
Tenant rights to appeal from judgments in eviction cases can cause delays of many months, sometimes years. If not already in effect at the trial court level, a rent escrow order as an appeal bond can protect the landlord’s interest pending eternal resolution of the case while the tenant proceeds with the appeal.
Contact a Massachusetts Eviction Lawyer
For answers to questions about Massachusetts summary process evictions, please call a skilled, experienced Massachusetts eviction lawyer from Law Office of Alan H. Segal at (781) 444-9676.