Massachusetts eviction laws vary from county to county, but they still follow the same general eviction process:
Every eviction process is different and dependent on the lease/rental agreement signed by the tenant and the landlord. It is always best to exercise meticulous file-keeping to avoid errors that could be exploited by the tenant.
This article details a summary for landlords to refer to when evicting a tenant. Confirm procedures with your justice court to make sure the entire process goes as smooth as possible.
1. Failure to comply with rent deadlines
Rent is usually considered late a day past it is due. A grace period may be available if stated in the lease/rental agreement.
Before a landlord can start the eviction process, they are required to give the tenant an official written 14-Day Notice to Quit.
If rent is paid within those 14 days or any time before the tenant is evicted, then the filing for eviction does not continue. If they are unable to pay, the landlord reserves the right to continue filing for eviction.
Landlords can charge a late fee, but they must provide a grace period of at least 30 days. This late fee provision has to be stated in the written lease/rental agreement.
2. Violation of the lease/rental agreement
The rental lease agreement has to be upheld by both tenant and landlord for the entire duration of their stay. Agreements may vary from tenant to tenant.
If a tenant violates any terms from the lease agreement, the landlord has to issue a 7-Day Notice to Quit for at-will tenants paying rent weekly or daily. There is no clear indication on the notice period for tenants with written leases.
Lease violations may include:
- Damage to the rental property
- Smoking in non-smoking areas
- Keeping pets in pet-free properties, etc.
If the violations are not resolved or they remain on the property, then the landlord may continue with the eviction. Landlords are not legally obligated to allow the tenant to resolve the violation before presenting them with the notice to quit.
3. Conducting illegal activity
If a tenant has engaged in illegal behavior within the property, the landlord has to issue an official written a 7-Day Notice to Quit for at-will tenants paying rent weekly or daily. There is no clear indication on the notice period for tenants with written leases.
Examples of illegal activities are:
- Theft, violence, assault
- Possession and/or firing of an illegal firearm or weapon
- Involvement in the creation, distribution, or consumption of a controlled substance such as alcohol or drugs
The above also apply if a guest or co-resident living with the tenant commits the illegal acts. Landlords are advised to keep a close eye on their tenants to make sure illegal behavior does not go unnoticed.
4. Non-renewal of the lease after the rental period ends
In Massachusetts, landlords cannot evict a tenant or force them to vacate the property without probable cause. As long as the tenant does not violate any rules, they can stay until their rental period ends.
But if they stay in the property even a day after their lease/rental agreement ends and have not arranged for a renewal, landlords can issue a written 30-Day Notice to Vacate.
Filing a Complaint
1. How to File a Complaint
The eviction process can only begin after the issuance of the appropriate written notice. Enough notice time must have been allowed before filing for eviction.
The eviction process is as follows:
- Serve a Summons and Complaint to the tenant
- Proceed to the justice court the rental property belongs to
- File a copy of Summons and Complaint along with the following pieces of evidence:
- Copy of the Notice to Quit
- Copy of the Return of Service
- Pay the fees
It takes about 7 to 30 days from the issuance of the Notice to Vacate/Quit.
Serving the Tenant
1. How to Serve a Tenant
In Massachusetts, it is a court official who serves the documents to the tenant. This process happens before the complaint is filed to the appropriate justice court.
There are several methods available:
- Personal Service: The court official delivers the Summons and Complaint to the tenant in person
- Posting: The court official leaves a copy of the documents for the tenant. It is placed in a secure and visible position by the entrance of the tenant’s rented property
- Mailing: The court official mails the documents via first-class mail with return of service
Neither the landlord nor their lawyer is allowed to serve the documents to the tenant.
2. After Serving the Summons and Complaint
The landlord files the Summons and Complaint to the appropriate justice court 7-30 days after the documents are served to the tenant. The landlord must file it on a Monday.
The documents should be served to the tenant at least 7-30 days before the landlord files them to the appropriate court.
Asking for Possession
1. Filing a Motion to Obtain Judgement and get a Judgement for Possession
The landlord has to provide a strong argument backed up by solid evidence against the tenant. Should the tenant fail to show up to the hearing, the landlord wins by default.
Should the landlord fail to attend the hearing, but the tenant is present, then it is rescheduled for 7 days.
2. Next procedure if the tenant disagreed and replied
In the state of Massachusetts, a reply from the tenant is not necessary for a court date to be scheduled. They only have to show up to the hearing.
However, they are encouraged (not required) to file a written answer no longer than 7 days after the documents are “entered” in court.
If they do not file a written answer, but appear in court, the hearing is postponed for another 7 days.
The landlord needs to support the claim with evidence and show it during the hearing.
This could include, but is not limited to the following:
- Copy of the deed and lease
- Rent receipts and ledgers
- Bank statements
- Photo and video documentation of the violations, correspondence, etc.
Eviction hearings are scheduled under one of the following conditions after filing the Summons and Complaint:
- Second Thursday, Friday or Monday
- Third Tuesday or Wednesday
This is usually 10-16 days after the Summons and Complaint were “entered” into court.
Tenants have to file a written reply to the complaint no more than 7 days after the documents were entered into court. If they are unable to do so, but choose to show up to the hearing, it is postponed for another 7 days.
If the landlord fails to show up to the hearing, but the tenant does, it is postponed for another 7 days.
1. After the landlord wins the case
Provided that the tenant does not appeal for reconsideration, a Writ of Execution is issued 10 days after the court rules in favor of the landlord.
The Writ of Execution gives the tenant at least 10 days to vacate the property.
2. Move out process
A law enforcement officer executes the Writ. This has to be delivered to the tenant between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on a weekday. It cannot take place on a weekend or a holiday.
Once the Writ is given to the tenant, they have 48 hours to move out. But they can ask the court for a Stay of Execution.
A Stay of Execution gives the tenant an additional 12 months if they are over the age of 60, or is a Person With Disability. Regular tenants are given a maximum of 6 months.
Only the sheriff or the appropriate authorities are allowed to remove the tenant by force. Even if the landlord wins the case, they are not allowed to engage in illegal methods of eviction.
The state of Massachusetts does not specify what to do with a tenant’s belongings. If any belongings are left behind, landlords are advised to contact the tenant and give them a reasonable timeframe to claim them.
After the timeframe has passed, the tenant’s property may be sold or disposed of. Landlords are advised to include a clause in the lease/rental agreement that dictates what has to happen should the client leave behind any personal belongings.
The tenants have 48 hours upon receiving the Writ of Execution to vacate the property.
If they received a Stay of Execution, they have an additional 6-12 months to stay in the property.
Massachusetts Eviction Timeline
Below is the average timeline for a complete eviction process. This timeline does not include special cases such as requests for an appeal or continuance.
On average, it would take anywhere between a little over 1 month to more than 1 year for a complete eviction process.
1. How to keep good records
If the tenant disagrees with the request to begin an eviction process and they reply to the court, it’s important that you keep extremely good records of everything so you can provide proof to the judge and win your case. This part can make or break your entire eviction request in the event of a dispute.
You can stay organized by:
- Keeping a physical paper trail - This gets VERY hard to search through, takes up a lot of storage space, and could get lost, damaged, stolen, or burnt in a fire.
- Scanning documents - Scan every document into your computer. A great scanner is the Brother ADS-1700W for under $200 or the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX1500 for $400.
- Backups - Store and backup every file using Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, or any other option that is easily searchable.
- PMS - Use a property management software to save everything from lease agreements, signed documents, violations, emails, notes, invoices, payments, reminders, maintenance requests, pictures, videos, and anything you can imagine. This is used best when you also scan every document into your software.
2. Evidence to show for not paying rent
If the tenant doesn’t pay rent, and they dispute that claim, it’s important that you show the judge the following:
- Your lease agreement - Showing the terms of the agreement, when rent is due, and any penalties for late payment.
- All payments - Showing all previous payments, how they were normally made (check, credit card, ACH, etc…), and what date they were normally paid on.
- Any payment returns - If their check bounced, their bank account had insufficient funds, or they did a chargeback dispute on their credit card, show this to the Judge. Also show any fees your bank may have charged you, and any penalties you are owed according to your lease agreement in order to be reimbursed.
- All messages - If you sent your tenant automated or manual payment reminders by text, email, a letter, or mail, it’s important to show this. While it’s usually not needed, it’s still good to show that they were aware of the situation and were given time to cure and make payment. This is why it’s always best to have everything in writing instead of any phone calls or face-to-face meetings.
3. Evidence to show for lease violations
If you are evicting the tenant for lease violations, for example, noise complaints, unauthorized pets, or property damages, it’s important to show proof from any of the following methods:
- Security Cameras - If you have a surveillance system that can show them committing the crime or lease violation, it’s safe to say you will normally win this dispute.
- Video - If you didn’t catch them in the act, the next best thing is to record a video with your phone of any damages, which could be used in court to prove the violation.
- Pictures - They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, a picture could be worth thousands of dollars! Even if you take a video, it’s important to show the Judge any pictures too as it’s usually easier to see by email or printed.
- Lease Terms - Once again, show the court which term they violated in their lease agreement. Don’t worry if you don’t have every single term spelled out in your rental agreement. If the violation is bad enough, it might not be needed to have it written. As a good practice though, start adding all of the potential reasons to evict a tenant into your agreement.
Can I force a tenant to move out in Massachusetts?
No. A landlord could be sued for forceful eviction of a tenant if they skip the proper eviction processes.
In the state of Massachusetts, tenants can sue their landlord for the following amounts:
- Three months’ worth of rent OR
- Three times the actual damages
As another consequence of forceful eviction, the statute allows tenants to stay on the property and pays for the court costs and legal fees.
Which eviction methods are considered illegal in Massachusetts?
Self-help eviction is illegal. Examples of such acts include (but are not limited to):
- Cutting off the tenant’s electric, water, and/or heat supply
- Changing the locks to prevent the tenant from entering the property
- Vandalizing or destroying the tenant’s property
What are the penalties for a self-help eviction in Massachusetts?
According to Massachusetts Civil Code, you may be liable for Tenant’s Court Costs & Attorneys’ Fees. The statute also gives the tenant the right to stay on the property.
A tenant can sue you for actual damages plus violations. Tenants may ask for an injunction prohibiting any further violation during the court action.
What other laws should I be aware of in Massachusetts?
Landlords should be aware of the changes made to the Eviction Policies in the state of Massachusetts. Especially in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is also wise for landlords to check out laws on Security Deposits. These deposits protect the landlord in case the tenants violate any terms in the lease/rental agreement or fail to pay their rent.
- eForms: Massachusetts Eviction Notice Forms
- Massachusetts Court System: COVID-19 Eviction Information
- Massachusetts Court System: File an Eviction Case
- NOLO: Consequences of Illegal Evictions
- NOLO: Massachusetts Security Deposit Limits and Deadlines
- The Balance Small Business: How Long Does a Landlord Have to Keep a Tenant’s Property?