In Massachusetts, all evictions follow the same process:
- Landlord serves notice to tenant.
- Landlord files complaint with court (if unresolved).
- Court holds hearing and issues judgment.
- Writ of Execution is issued.
- Possession of property is returned to landlord.
From start to finish, an eviction in Massachusetts can be completed in one to four months. However, it can take longer depending on the reason for eviction and whether the tenant appears at the hearing, appeals, or contests the eviction.
Grounds for an Eviction in Massachusetts
In Massachusetts, a landlord cannot legally evict a tenant without cause. Reasons to evict include not paying rent, violating lease terms, failing to uphold tenant responsibilities, nonrenewal of a lease, or conducting criminal activity on the property.
|Nonpayment of Rent||14 Days||Yes|
|End of / No Lease||30 Days||No|
|Lease Violation||7 Days||No|
|Illegal Activity||7 Days||No|
Eviction for Nonpayment of Rent
In Massachusetts, a landlord can evict a tenant for not paying rent on time. To do so, they must first give 14 days’ notice to vacate the premises.
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 until30 days after the rent is due. There is no right to a legal grace period (i.e., five days) or exceptions for weekends or court-observed holidays.
Eviction for No Lease or End of Lease
In Massachusetts, a landlord can evict a tenant without a lease or with a lease that has ended (known as a “holdover tenant” or “tenant at will”). To do so, they must first terminate the tenancy by giving proper notice to move out (30 days for tenants that pay month-to-month).
Once the tenancy ends, if the tenant remains on the property, the landlord can move forward and file an eviction lawsuit.
Eviction for Violation of Lease or Responsibilities
In Massachusetts, a landlord can evict a tenant for violating their lease, failing to uphold their responsibilities, or conducting illegal activity on the rental property in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts landlords are not required to allow tenants to cure these types of violations and may provide them a 7 days’ notice to vacate. The tenant is not allowed to fix the issue and must vacate the rental unit.
Tenant responsibilities include:
- Keeping the property safe and habitable
- Accepting responsibility for any damage caused by the tenant beyond “normal wear and tear”
Typical lease violations include:
- Negligently or deliberately damaging the rental property.
- Having too many people residing in the rental unit.
- Having a pet when there’s a no-pet policy or violating any other rules set forth in the lease.
Examples of illegal activity in Massachusetts include:
- 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
Illegal activity also applies to guests or co-residents staying with the tenant.
Illegal Evictions in Massachusetts
In Massachusetts, it is illegal for a landlord to evict a tenant for any reason without first getting a court order. The below actions are specific examples of unlawful evictions by a landlord.
“Self Help” Evictions
No matter the situation, a landlord is not allowed to forcibly remove or constructively evict a tenant by:
- Changing the locks;
- Shutting off utilities; or
- Removing tenant belongings.
A tenant can only be legally removed with a court order obtained through the formal eviction process.
It is illegal for a landlord to evict a tenant in response to exercising a legally protected right. These rights include:
- Complaining to the landlord about an issue with the property;
- Contacting a local or government agency about an issue with the property;
- Joining, supporting or organizing a tenant union or organization;
- Pursuing legal action against the landlord;
- Withholding rent for a legally acceptable reason.
If a tenant proves they were evicted illegally, the landlord may be liable for damages in an amount determined by the court.
Step 1: Notice is Posted
The first step in the eviction process in Massachusetts is serving a tenant with written notice to quit. In the notice, a landlord must specify the exact reason for terminating the tenancy. For example, a landlord should state if the tenant violated a lease term or failed to pay rent.
Massachusetts law doesn’t specify the exact method to serve a tenant with notice, but the tenant must actually receive the notice for it to be effective. The best methods of serving a tenant with notice in Massachusetts are:
- Hand delivering the notice to the tenant; or
- Hiring a constable or sheriff to hand deliver the notice.
Because a landlord must prove the tenant received notice, the landlord should not:
- Leave the notice at the tenant’s residence;
- Send the notice by mail;
- Tape the notice to the door of the rental unit; or
- Leave the notice with someone besides the tenant.
14-Day Notice to Quit
A landlord must first serve a 14-Day Notice to Quit before evicting a tenant for nonpayment of rent in Massachusetts. A tenant can prevent an eviction by paying the rent before the answer is due in court.
The 14-Day Notice to Quit must state that the tenant has failed to pay rent on time and that the tenant has the right to “cure” the non-payment by paying the rent in full.
7-Day Notice to Quit
In Massachusetts, a landlord must issue a 7-Day Notice to Quit before evicting a tenant who commits a lease violation or illegal activity.
Massachusetts law does not specify the notice period for tenants with written leases. A lease agreement will often indicate what type of notice is required in this situation.
30-Day Notice to Quit
A landlord must serve a month-to-month tenant or a tenant without a lease a 30-Day Notice to Quit to end the tenancy. This notice allows the tenant 30 calendar days to move out (including weekends and holidays).
However, for tenants that don’t pay monthly, the amount of notice differs:
|Rent Payment Frequency||Notice Needed|
|Year-to-Year||Same amount as average pay interval (normally 3 months)|
Step 2: Landlord Files Lawsuit with 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:
- Giving a copy to the tenant in person;
- Leaving a copy at the tenant’s residence; or
- 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 seven, but not more than 30, days prior to the landlord’s filing eviction paperwork with the court.
Step 3: Court Holds Hearing & Issues 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.
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 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.
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.
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
In Massachusetts, an eviction can be completed in 1 to 4 months but can take longer depending on the reason for eviction, whether the eviction is contested, which days courts are (or aren’t) in session and other various possible delays.
Below are the parts of the Massachusetts eviction process outside the control of landlords for cases that go uncontested.
|Initial Notice Period||7-30 Calendar Days|
|Court Issuing Summons||1 Business Day|
|Court Serving Summons||7-30 Business Days|
|Tenant Response Period||7 Business Days Before the Hearing|
|Court Ruling||1 Business Day|
|Court Serving Writ of Execution||10 Business Days|
|Final Notice of Eviction||48 Hours|
Flowchart of Massachusetts Eviction Process
- 1 MA Gen L ch 186 § 11 (2020)
- 2 MA Gen L ch 186 §15B (2020)
- 3 MA Gen L ch 186 § 13 (2020)
- 4 MA Gen L ch 186 §17 (2020)
- 5 MA Gen L ch 139 §19 (2020)
- 6 MA Uniform Summary Process Rules, Rule 1 (2020)
- 7 MA Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 4 (2020)
- 8 MA Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 4 (2020)
- 9 MA Uniform Summary Process Rules, Rule 1 (2020)
- 10 MA Uniform Summary Process Rules, Rule 2 (2020)
- 11 MA Uniform Summary Process Rules, Rule 3 (2020)
- 12 MA Uniform Summary Process Rules, Rule 10 (2020)
- 13 MA Gen L ch 239 §5 (2020)
- 14 MA Gen L ch 239 §3 (2020)
- 15 MA Gen L ch 239 §3 (2020)
- 16 MA Gen L ch 239 §9 (2020)