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Eviction Process in Massachusetts: A Step-by-Step Guide

Eviction process in MA

The eviction process in Massachusetts can be tough for landlords and tenants.  It’s important to know your rights and responsibilities, whether you’re dealing with unpaid rent or lease violations.

In Massachusetts, evicting a tenant without a court order is illegal.  Forcing a tenant out without following the correct legal eviction process can result in legal issues.  This guide breaks down the eviction process in Massachusetts.

Understanding Lease Agreements and Tenant Types

Your approach to eviction in Massachusetts depends on your lease agreement.  Here’s why it’s so important.

Tenants at Will

Tenants at will don’t have a written lease or their lease has expired.  You can evict tenants at will for any reason, but you still need to provide a Notice to Quit.  This gives them 30 days or one full rental period (whichever is longer) to vacate, per Mass.  Gen. Laws ch.  186, § 12 .  However, there are some exceptions if a tenant fails to pay rent.

Tenants with Leases

A tenant with a fixed-term lease automatically ends their tenancy once the lease term expires.  They become tenants at sufferance if they don’t leave.  If you must evict before the lease ends due to a violation, refer to the lease.

Lease agreements outline guidelines about the notice period for situations like property damage or unauthorized occupants.  You’ll often find a 7- or 14-day notice period.

Grounds for Eviction in Massachusetts

It’s important to understand the grounds for evictions so you remain within legal boundaries.  Here are some of the most common reasons for evicting tenants in Massachusetts:

Non-Payment of Rent

According to MassLandlords.net , nonpayment of rent makes up 80% of eviction cases filed in Massachusetts.  You have the right to begin eviction proceedings when a tenant doesn’t pay rent on time.  Courts may be more understanding if the missed payment is a one-time occurrence rather than a recurring issue.

Lease Violations

Lease agreements set expectations for how a tenant should live in and care for your property in addition to rent payments.  Common lease violations that may result in eviction include:

  • Unauthorized occupants.
  • Pets (where prohibited or not agreed upon).
  • Property damage exceeding normal wear and tear.
  • Illegal activities, such as drug use or other criminal behavior.

No-Fault Evictions

You don’t necessarily have to cite a reason for eviction in no-fault situations.  However, you must still follow the 30-day notice rule and avoid discriminatory practices.

Massachusetts Eviction Process:  Step-by-Step

The legal eviction process in Massachusetts may seem complex, but it’s designed to ensure you follow the law and respect your tenant’s rights.  If you’re facing an eviction, it’s best to seek guidance from an attorney who specializes in landlord-tenant law in Massachusetts.  An attorney can provide you with a deeper understanding of the law and help you navigate the process effectively.

1. Provide a Written Notice to Quit

The first step is always issuing a formal, written notice to vacate.  Massachusetts law requires specific language and formats, especially for non-payment cases.

Type of Notice to QuitExplanation
14-Day Notice to Quit This notice is for late or unpaid rent payments.  It must follow Chapter 186, Section 11 guidelines and include specific language and an attestation form. This notice supersedes the 30-day notice requirement of the federal CARES Act.  The CARES Act only applies to properties covered by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.  You can determine if this applies to your property by contacting an attorney.
30-Day Notice to Vacate Use this notice for tenants on a month-to-month agreement or those who’ve overstayed a fixed-term lease.
7-Day Notice to Quit This notice is for tenants engaged in illegal activity.  It’s recommended you consult with an attorney before issuing this notice because the criteria can be complicated.  Factors determining if you need to send a 7-day versus a 14- or 30-day notice are complicated, and a lawyer can offer valuable support.

2. File Your Complaint With The Court

You can file an official complaint once the notice period has expired and you cannot reach a resolution outside of court.  The court you file with, either the Housing Court or District Court, depends on your property and its regulations, as well as how each court operates in your area.

3. Serve the Tenant

Massachusetts courts use a “Summary Process Summons and Complaint” to officially begin an eviction lawsuit, often called a “summary process”.  A constable usually serves the summons so you can prove it was served correctly.  The entry date and first court proceeding date are automatically scheduled once served, starting the journey to getting your property back.

4. Prepare for the Mandatory Mediation

A mandatory mediation is scheduled in Massachusetts after a complaint is filed.  The Housing Specialist facilitates conversation to potentially resolve the situation.  Mediation offers an opportunity to gather information and strategize with legal counsel even if an agreement isn’t reached.  Mediation may also help expedite future court proceedings. Landlords must attend the mediation or risk defaulting the case and hindering their ability to recover any unpaid rent.

5. Prepare For Trial

Although an eviction case doesn’t always go to trial, it’s essential to be prepared.  You present your case to the court if it goes to trial, so you must provide detailed documentation.  This includes unpaid rent or evidence supporting your eviction reasoning.  Understanding the Uniform Summary Process Rules is also key to navigating this part of the Massachusetts eviction process.

6. Post-Trial Procedures

If the tenant hasn’t left and the court sides with the landlord, you must take further action.  Below is a typical sequence of events after a court rules in your favor.

  • Request a Motion for Execution:  If the tenant hasn’t moved out after the trial, the judge issues a “Motion for Execution”.  This document allows law enforcement to legally remove the tenants from the property.
  • 48-Hour Notice Delivery:  Once granted, typically within a few days, a constable serves the tenant with the 48-hour notice to vacate the property.  This is the final stage of eviction.
  • Eviction Day Procedures:  The actual eviction typically occurs on a weekday that’s not a holiday.  Specific individuals must be present to remove the tenant’s belongings legally and secure the property, including:
    • The landlord or their legal representative.
    • A licensed, bonded, and insured moving company.
    • Law enforcement, like a constable, to make sure the process remains legal.
  • Property Handling:  Movers must be licensed and insured to handle the eviction. The movers will remove the tenant’s belongings under the supervision of a law enforcement officer.  The tenant’s belongings are usually placed in storage and paid for by the landlord.  The landlord can then attempt to recoup those costs from the tenant.

FAQs about Eviction process in Massachusetts

How Much Does Eviction Cost in Massachusetts?

Eviction costs vary, but generally, you’re looking at a few hundred dollars at least. These fees cover court filing, legal representation, and paying a constable to deliver notices.  You may also lose out on rental income during the eviction process.  In some cases, you may incur additional expenses related to the removal and storage of the tenant’s belongings.  It’s essential to carefully review your lease agreement for any clauses related to these expenses.  It’s recommended to budget for these costs in advance.

Can a Tenant Fight an Eviction in Massachusetts?

It may be daunting to landlords, but tenants in Massachusetts do have legal options for fighting evictions.  The most common defense is the landlord not upholding their end of the lease agreement.  This includes not fulfilling the right to quiet enjoyment or the warranty of habitability.  Essentially, if there are problems with the rental, such as no heat or hot water outside of standard maintenance, the tenant could have a case.  A judge could deem an eviction attempt as unlawful or delayed until you fix the issues. Tenants facing eviction may also seek assistance from government organizations or legal aid societies that specialize in housing law.

Conclusion

The eviction process in Massachusetts requires you to be diligent, patient, and understand the legal requirements.  Removing a tenant is never simple.  Reach out to other landlords for advice and consult legal counsel to get clarity before you start the eviction process.  It’s crucial to prioritize communication and explore all possible options, such as rent repayment plans or negotiated departures, before resorting to legal action. Having access to legal advice and resources throughout this process can make the difference in taking back your property legally.

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