Massachusetts Eviction Process

Last Updated: October 26, 2021 by Elizabeth Souza

Note: Until April 2022, courts shall not issue eviction orders while tenants are seeking rental assistance. The new law also requires that landlords give tenants a form with information about how to prevent evictions when they send out the first Notice to Quit. The form provides the tenant with information that they are entitled to a court hearing, and they can seek rental assistance or other resources before an eviction case is filed. Until January 2023, the Act also requires the landlord to submit a Notice to Quit to the Department of Housing and Community Development through an online portal. For more information, please visit Massachusetts Acts: Chapter 20 of the Acts of 2021.

Timeline. Evicting a tenant in Massachusetts can take around one to three 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).

Questions? To chat with a Massachusetts eviction attorney, Click here

Introduction. In Massachusetts, landlords must follow all rules and procedures to obtain a court order to evict a tenant. It is unlawful for a landlord to remove a tenant without a court order. 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 shall provide tenants with a written 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 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.

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Eviction Process for Violation of Lease Terms / Rental Agreement

Icons  document     on iPropertyManagement.com A tenant can be evicted in Massachusetts if they do not uphold their responsibilities under the terms of a written lease or 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 seven 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 or rental agreement.

Typical lease violations under this category shall include violations such as negligently or deliberately 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.

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Eviction Process for No Lease / End of Lease

In the state of Massachusetts, if tenants “holdover,” 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 the eviction process.

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

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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 seven 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 or manufacture of controlled substances
  • Illegal possession of a weapon
  • Possession, use of an explosive or incendiary device
  • A crime that involves the threat or 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.

Generate an official Massachusetts lease termination letter.


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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 are 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, District Court, or Boston Municipal Court. Note, Housing Courts are more familiar with landlord and tenant laws and eviction cases could be transferred there.

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, special 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; or
  3. Mailing a copy via first class mail with return of service.

Clock   on iPropertyManagement.com7-30 days. The summons and complaint must be served on the tenant at least seven, 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 to attend the eviction hearing. If tenants do choose to file a written answer, it must be done within seven 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 seven days. The eviction hearing will also be postponed for seven 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.

Clock   on iPropertyManagement.com10-16 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 seven 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 allows 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. On the 11th day, the landlord may send a written request for the writ of execution to the clerk’s office.

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. The writ of execution must be used within three months to be valid.

Clock   on iPropertyManagement.com 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

Only sheriffs and constables are able to remove a tenant, they 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. Meaning, that the court has postponed the eviction due to reasons that were not the tenant’s fault. 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.

Clock   on iPropertyManagement.com48 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. 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.
Questions? To chat with a Massachusetts eviction attorney, Click here

Additional Information

Tenant’s Defenses for Evictions. A tenant may have defenses against the eviction lawsuit. Here are some examples:

  • The landlord did not receive a court order to evict the tenant.
  • The landlord did not follow the proper rules and procedures for eviction.
  • The landlord failed to maintain the rental unit in a safe and habitable manner after notice was given from the tenant.
  • The landlord pursues eviction based on discrimination against the tenant.

Tenant’s Termination of Rental Agreement. A tenant may terminate a rental agreement upon written notice to the landlord if a member of the household is a victim of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking. The notice shall be made within three months of the most recent act of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking; or if tenant is reasonably in fear of imminent danger from domestic violence, rape, sexual assault or stalking.

Tenant’s Personal Property After the Eviction. If the former tenant has belongings that were left behind after the eviction, Massachusetts state law requires that the personal property is stored in a licensed, public warehouse within 20 miles of the renal unit. The constable shall take inventory of the personal belongings and give the former tenant a written receipt. All storage fees shall be filed and approved by the Department of Public Safety. If the former tenant does not pay the storage fees that are owed, the storage company may sell the former tenant’s personal property after a six-months.

Flowchart of Massachusetts Eviction Process

Massachusetts Eviction Process Flowchart on iPropertyManagement.com

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.

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