Massachusetts Eviction Process

Timeline. Evicting a tenant in Massachusetts can take around 1 to 3 months, depending on the reason for the eviction and the type of tenancy. If tenants appear at the hearing but fail to file an answer, the process can take longer (read more).

Below are the individual steps of the eviction process in Massachusetts.

Step 1: Notice is Posted

Landlords in Massachusetts can begin the eviction process for several reasons, including:

  1. Nonpayment of Rent – Once rent is past due, written notice must be given to the tenant prior to proceeding with an eviction action.
  2. Violation of Lease Terms / Rental Agreement – If a tenant violates a provision of a written lease/rental agreement, the landlord isn’t required to give the tenant the opportunity to correct the issue before moving forward with the eviction process.
  3. No Lease / End of Lease Term (Tenant at Will) – If there is no lease or the term of the lease has ended, the landlord does not need any additional reason to end the tenancy as long as proper notice is given.
  4. Illegal Activity – If a tenant or member of the tenant’s household is involved in illegal activity, notice may or may not be required, depending on the type of tenancy.
NOTES
  • Retaliatory Evictions. It is illegal for a landlord to evict a tenant for complaining to the landlord or to the appropriate local or government agency regarding the property. It is also illegal for a landlord to evict a tenant for joining, supporting, or organizing a tenant organization or union.
  • Evicting a Squatter. If the individual occupying the property did not have the permission of the landlord when initially moving in, does not have a lease (or verbal agreement) and has no history of paying rent, then they may be considered trespassers and evicted through either the criminal trespass or civil eviction procedures (read more).

Each possible ground for eviction has its own rules for how the process starts.

Eviction Process for Nonpayment of Rent

A landlord is allowed to evict a tenant for failing to pay rent on time.

According to Massachusetts law, rent is considered late the day after it’s due; however, landlords are not allowed to assess a late fee or charge interest on the unpaid rent until 30 days after the rent is due.

Once rent is past due, the landlord must provide tenants with a 14-Day Notice to Quit if the landlord wants to file an eviction action with the court. This notice gives the tenant 14 days to move out in order to avoid eviction.

If the tenant remains on the property after the notice period expires, the landlord may proceed with the eviction process.

However, if the tenant pays all past-due rent in full prior to the eviction hearing, the eviction process will be stopped.

Eviction Process for Violation of Lease Terms / Rental Agreement

A tenant can be evicted in Massachusetts if they do not uphold their responsibilities under the terms of a written lease/rental agreement.

Massachusetts landlords are not required to allow tenants to correct a lease violation in these instances, but they must provide at-will tenants who pay rent on a weekly or daily basis with a 7-Day Notice to Quit, giving the tenant 7 days to move out of the rental unit.

Massachusetts law doesn’t specify how much notice (if any) must be given for tenants with unexpired written leases who violate their lease/rental agreement.

Typical lease violations under this category could include things like damaging the rental property, having too many people residing in the rental unit, and having a pet when there’s a no-pet policy.

Note that illegal activity is not included in this category.

If the tenant remains on the property after the notice period (if any) expires, the landlord may continue with the eviction process.

Eviction Process for No Lease / End of Lease

In the state of Massachusetts, if tenants “hold over,” or stay in the rental unit after the rental term has expired, then the landlord must give tenants notice before evicting them. This can include tenants without a written lease and week-to-week and month-to-month tenants.

Often this type of eviction applies to tenants who are at the end of their lease and the landlord doesn’t want to renew.

Regardless of the length or type of tenancy, landlords are required to give at-will tenants at least 30 days’ notice prior to beginning an eviction action.

If the tenant remains on the property after the notice period expires, the landlord may proceed with the eviction process.

Eviction Process for Illegal Activity

If tenants (or members of their household) are involved in illegal activity, then the lease is considered void, and landlords may proceed with an eviction.

It should be noted that Massachusetts law doesn’t specify how much written notice (if any) is required prior to evicting tenants who are not considered at-will in these instances.

Landlords of at-will tenants who pay rent on a daily or weekly basis must give them at least 7 days’ written notice prior to beginning an eviction action for illegal activity.

In Massachusetts, illegal activity includes :

  • Prostitution
  • Illegal gaming
  • Illegal keeping or sale of alcohol
  • Illegal possession/sale/manufacture of controlled substances
  • Illegal possession of a weapon
  • Possession/use of an explosive/incendiary device
  • A crime that involves the threat/use of force or violence

If the tenant remains on the property after the notice period expires (if any), the landlord may proceed with the eviction process.

Step 2: Complaint is Filed and Served

In most states, the summons and complaint can only be served on the tenant after the landlord has filed the complaint with the court.

However, in Massachusetts, this process is reversed and the summons and complaint is served on the tenant first; then the landlord files a copy of the complaint, summons, return of service, and any notice to quit given to the tenant with the court.

In the state of Massachusetts, filing a complaint with the court costs $120-$180 depending on whether the case is filed in housing court or in district court.

A copy of the summons and complaint must be served on the tenant 7-30 days prior to the date the landlord files the eviction paperwork with the court by the sheriff, deputy sheriff, or a person appointed by the court to serve process, through one of the following methods:

  1. Giving a copy to the tenant in person
  2. Leaving a copy at the tenant’s residence
  3. Mailing a copy via first class mail with return of service

7-30 days. The summons and complaint must be served on the tenant at least 7, but not more than 30, days prior to the landlord’s filing eviction paperwork with the court.

Step 3: Court Hearing and Judgment

Cases in Massachusetts are “entered” only on Mondays. “Entering” a case means all required paperwork to begin a case is filed with the court on that day.

The eviction hearing must be held on the second Thursday, second Friday, second Monday, third Tuesday, or the third Wednesday after the entry date, which is typically 10-16 days later.

Tenants are not required to file a formal, written answer to the landlord’s complaint in order to attend the eviction hearing. If tenants do choose to file a written answer, it must be done within 7 days of the entry date.

This is also the deadline for tenants who are being evicted for nonpayment of rent to pay all past-due rent in full in order to avoid being evicted.

If the tenant fails to appear for the hearing (even if they filed a written answer), the judicial officer will issue a default judgment in favor of the landlord.

If the tenant appears, but didn’t file a written answer, the hearing will be postponed for 7 days. The eviction hearing will also be postponed for 7 days if the landlord fails to attend the hearing, but the tenant does appear.

If the judge rules in favor of the landlord, a writ of execution will be issued and the eviction process will continue.

10-16 days. The hearing must be held 10-16 days after the entry date. If the landlord fails to appear, or the tenant appears but didn’t file a written answer, this will add another 7 days to the process.

Step 4: Writ of Execution Is Issued

The writ of execution is the tenant’s final notice to leave the rental unit, and gives them the opportunity to remove their belongings before the sheriff or constable returns to the property to forcibly remove the tenant.

If the court has ruled in the landlord’s favor, the landlord will ask the court to issue a writ of execution. The writ cannot be issued until 10 days after the date of the entry of judgment.

This means that tenants will have at least 10 days after the court ruling to move out of the rental unit before they are forcibly removed.

10 days. The writ of execution can be issued 10 days after the ruling in favor of the landlord.

Step 5: Possession of Property is Returned

Law enforcement officers are required to give tenants 48 hours to vacate the property before they return to forcibly remove the tenant from the rental unit.

However, a writ of execution cannot be delivered to tenants on weekends, holidays, after 5 p.m. on a weekday, or before 9 a.m. on a weekday.

Tenants may request a 6-12 month stay of execution. If granted, the judicial officer will postpone the eviction for a maximum of 12 months if the tenant is over the age of 60 or has a handicap (as defined in Massachusetts state law) or for a maximum of six months in all other cases.

48 hours. Tenants will be given 48 hours to move out of the rental unit before they are forcibly removed from the property; a stay of execution will add up to 6-12 months to the process.

Massachusetts Eviction Process Timeline

Below is a summary of the aspects outside of the landlord’s control that dictate the amount of time it takes to evict a tenant in Massachusetts. With that being said, these estimates can vary greatly, and some time periods may not include weekends or legal holidays.

  1. Initial Notice Period – between 7 and 30 days, depending on the notice type and reason for eviction.
  2. Issuance/Service of Summons and Complaint – 7-30 days prior to the date the case is “entered” with the court.
  3. Court Hearing and Ruling on the Eviction – 10-16 days after the date the case is “entered” with the court.
  4. Issuance of Writ of Possession – 10 days after the ruling in favor of the landlord is issued.
  5. Return of Possession – 48 hours after the writ is posted/delivered to tenants.

Flowchart of Massachusetts Eviction Process

For additional questions about the eviction process in Massachusetts, please refer to the official legislation, Massachusetts General Laws, chapters 139, 186, 239, the Massachusetts Uniform Summary Process Rules , and Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 4, for more information.