What’s the deal with evictions in Massachusetts?
Unfortunately, there may come a time in your tenure as a landlord or property manager when you need to serve an eviction notice to tenants who fail to pay their rent, cause an excessive amount of damage to the property, or are a general nuisance to their neighbors.
While the hope is that this rarely happens, it’s important to be as prepared as possible. Due to the sensitive nature of evictions, tempers have been known to flare, turning an already awkward situation into a showdown.
One such showdown happened in Salem, when a man who had recently lost his job was then given an eviction notice. The overwhelming stress of the situation resulted in a six-hour standoff with law enforcement, during which he threw explosives out the window and fatally injured himself.
While this isn’t the norm, it’s probably best to assume that tenants facing eviction have fallen on hard times. With that said, it’s worth following a careful procedure to ensure that the eviction process is as easy as possible on everyone.
What are some reasons I can evict a tenant?
Reasons for evictions fall into three major categories, including non-payment, no-fault, and for cause.
- There is no grace period for nonpayment, so eviction can begin the day after the rent is due.
- If tenants are “at will,” the landlord can ask them to leave for a variety of reasons including non-payment of rent.
For Cause Evictions:
- Violation of the lease (including unapproved roommates)
- Illegal activity or drug use
- Excessive noise
- Harassment of other residents
Are there situations in which I cannot evict a tenant?
Tenants cannot be evicted as a form of retaliation. That is to say, if the terms of the lease are changed within six months of a tenant exercising any legal rights regarding habitability of the property, joining a tenant organization, or contacting the health board, you are responsible for providing burden of proof that the eviction is the result of something else.
What is the process normally like?
Because evictions in Massachusetts cannot proceed without being taken to court, it’s important to work with the tenant to solve any issues before beginning the eviction process. This will save you money, time, and stress in the long run.
With that in mind, trying to avoid costly court cases with “self-help” evictions is illegal. A tenant cannot be evicted with changed locks, removed doors, or by turning off the heat/electricity. So, if you do decide to proceed with the eviction process, it must be done properly to avoid a lawsuit.
- Send a “Notice to Quit.” For non-payment of rent, all tenants need a 14-day notice. For tenants on a lease being asked to leave for other reasons, a notice of seven days is generally accepted as the norm, but the lease should cite the proper number of days. For tenants at will, for any reason other than nonpayment, a 30-day written notice is required.
- Allow tenants to pay their outstanding rent, if applicable, before their 14-day notice-to-quit is over. Late fees on rent are illegal in Massachusetts, but tenants are responsible for past-due rent and any legal fees, if applicable.
- After the notice period passes, you and a lawyer can serve a Summary Process Summons and Complaint to officially bring the case to a trial.
- The tenant then has the chance to provide a written response, officially called an answer, which allows them to describe why they should not be evicted, outline any counterclaims, or cite faulty eviction procedures.
- The case will only go to trial if you and the tenant cannot reach an agreement to resolve the reasons for eviction. A judge will decide if you win and how much money (if any) you are owed or you owe the tenant. Either party may appeal the judge’s decision within 10 days.
- If the judge decides the tenant should be evicted (and if the appeal is dismissed), they will issue a court order called an Execution. The Execution expires three months after it is issued. If, before you use the Execution, you accept payment of all past due rent, you waive your right to remove the tenant and have created a new tenancy.
- A stay of execution may be granted to tenants of a no-fault eviction if they were unable to find a new place to live. Stays are usually six months, with elderly/disabled tenants eligible for stays of up to one year.
- To physically remove the tenant from the property, you must hire a constable and a moving company, and give the tenant 48 hours notice before they arrive to get the tenant’s things. The constable will physically remove the tenant and their things, and has the movers store their property in a storage facility. You are initially responsible for paying for storage. You are allowed to sue the tenant to cover the costs of eviction.
Remember, if you can resolve the issues without taking it to court, you can save yourself a lot of time, money, and headaches.
Where can I learn more?
If you have any questions, or think you may want to start the eviction process with a tenant in Massachusetts, please consult a lawyer.
- Massachusetts Consumer Guide to Landlord Rights & Responsibilities (PDF)
- NOLO Guide to Month-to-Month Tenancy Termination
- NOLO Massachusetts Illegal Eviction Procedures
- Mass.gov Eviction Laws
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Disclaimer: The materials on this database provide general information related to the law and are intended to provide a layman’s summary of the law. The information provided does not constitute legal advice and the manager of this database is not a law firm. These materials are intended, but cannot be promised or guaranteed to be current, complete or up-to-date. All of the information offered are intended for general informational purposes only. You should not act or rely on any of the information contained on this database without first seeking the advice of a qualified attorney.