Massachusetts Eviction Laws

Landlords should familiarize themselves with the statewide rules and procedures that govern evictions in the state of Massachusetts and understand their responsibilities.

Quick Facts for Massachusetts

  • Grounds for Eviction: Failing to pay rent, rental agreement violations & using rental property for illegal purposes
  • Notice Required for Nonpayment of Rent: 14-Day Notice to Pay or Quit
  • Notice Required for Eviction without Cause: Notice to Quit, amount of time of which should equal length of time between rental due dates (i.e, 30 days for month-to-month tenant, 7 days for weekly tenant)
  • Notice Required for Lease Violations: Notice to Quit (no specific state-defined timeline)
  • Fastest a Landlord Can Evict for Illegal Acts: Immediately, by virtue of the state’s nuisance law
  • Duration for Tenant to Appeal Eviction Ruling: 10 days

How Long Does it Take to Evict a Tenant in Massachusetts?

As with all other states, it is difficult to provide a simple answer to the question of how long it will take to evict a tenant in the state of Massachusetts. In most instances, a landlord in the state of Massachusetts is required to provide a Notice to Quit prior to proceeding with the eviction process by filing a Summons and Complaint with the court.

In some instances, such as when a tenant is using the property for illegal activity, the landlord may proceed with filing a Summons and Complaint without first providing the tenant with notice and time to vacate the property. However, even when this step is dispensed with, it can be difficult to determine the amount of time the eviction process may take.

Ultimately, the amount of time the eviction process will take is determined by the tenant’s willingness to fight. A tenacious tenant may fight the process in court and file for an appeal even after losing a judgement for eviction. This can make the eviction process both lengthy and costly.

Reasons for Eviction in Massachusetts

Each state provides guidance as to how and for what reasons a landlord may seek to evict a tenant. In the state of Massachusetts- a landlord may legally seek to evict a tenant for:

  • Failing to pay rent (M.G.L.A. 186-11)
  • Violating the terms of the lease or rental agreement (M.G.L.A. 239-1)
  • Using the rental property for illegal purposes

Regardless of the reason that the landlord is seeking to evict a tenant, the landlord is generally required to provide a minimum 14-Day Notice. This notice must be provided in writing and the specific length of the amount of time required depends upon the reasons the landlord is seeking eviction.

The landlord may deliver the notice to the tenant in a variety of ways. A landlord may deliver a notice to a tenant in person. He/she may send a copy of the notice to the tenant through 1st class mail. He/she may also choose to have a sheriff or constable serve the tenant with the notice. Finally a landlord may leave a copy of the notice with the tenant’s spouse if the tenant him/herself in not available.

Eviction for Failure to Pay Rent

If a tenant fails to pay rent when is due, the landlord must provide him/her with a 14-Day Notice to pay rent or quit the property. If the tenant fails to pay the rent in full, or to move from the property, in the 14 days provided, the landlord may proceed with the eviction process by filing a Summons and Complaint with the court.

Eviction if Rent has Been Paid

In the state of Massachusetts, a tenant who is renting without the benefit of a written lease is considered an “at-will” tenant, and may be evicted without cause. The landlord must provide the tenant with a Notice to Quit equal to the length of the amount of time between rental due dates. An “at-will” tenant renting month-to-month must be given a minimum of a 30-Day Notice to Quit.

Evicting a Tenant For Violation of Rental Agreement/Lease

Although the state of Massachusetts requires that a landlord provide a tenant with a written notice indicating that he/she is seeking to terminate the rental arrangement when the tenant has violated terms of the lease or rental agreement, the state does not provide specific details as to the length of the time allowed in the notice. If the tenant remains on the rental property beyond the length of time allowed in a legally served Notice to Quit, the landlord may proceed with the eviction process by filing a Summons and Complaint with the court.

Evicting a Tenant for Illegal Behavior

The state of Massachusetts has a long-standing nuisance law. According to this law, a landlord has historically been allowed to terminate a rental relationship immediately with any tenant who uses the rental property for illegal gambling, prostitution, or the illegal sales or storage of alcoholic beverages. Over the years, this law has been expanded to include the production, possession, and sale of illegal drugs, certain weapons, and explosives.

As this law negates the need for a landlord to provide the tenant with a notice to terminate the rental relationship, the landlord may immediately proceed with the eviction process by filing a Summary Process case with the court.

How Does a Landlord Evict a Tenant When There is no Lease?

If a landlord is seeking to evict an “at-will” tenant, he/she must provide a notice equal to the length of the rental period if seeking to evict the tenant without cause. Therefore, an “at-will” tenant renting month-to-month who has paid rent in a timely fashion and breached none of the terms of the rental agreement, must be provided with a 30-Day Notice to Quit. Likewise, when a landlord seeks to evict an “at-will” tenant who rents week-to-week for no cause, he/she must provide a 7-Day Notice to Quit.

Read more about tenants at will here.

If, however, a landlord is seeking to evict an “at-will” tenant for failure to pay rent, he/she may serve the tenant with a written 14-Day Notice  to quit. If a 14-Day Notice to Quit  is provided, the tenant must be made aware that he/she may cure the issue by paying the outstanding rent in the first 10 days after the notice is served. This option is void if the tenant has already been served with a 14-Day Notice for failure to pay within the past 12 months.

When Can a Tenant Not Be Evicted in Massachusetts?

In the state of Massachusetts, it is illegal for a landlord to attempt to evict a tenant within six-months of:

  • Making a report to health inspectors or other government agencies for violations of the law
  • Informing the landlord of violations of the State Sanitary Code
  • Withholding rent for inappropriate housing conditions
  • Organizing or joining a tenant’s group or union
  • Filing a lawsuit against the landlord for violation of tenant’s rights
  • Taking legal actions that protect members of  the tenant’s household from domestic abuse or harassment.

It is also illegal for a landlord to attempt to evict a tenant based on his/her race, religion, color, nation or origin, gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, age, genetic information, ancestry, veteran or disability status. It is also illegal for a landlord to evict a tenant for receiving public assistance or rental subsidies.

Once the Rental Relationship has been Terminated

Through the service of a written Notice to Quit, the landlord may file a Summons and Complaint with the court if the tenant fails to vacate the rental process within the amount of time allowed by the notice.

The Summons and Complaint will be served by a sheriff or constable. If a copy of the complaint is left at the property, the landlord must also send a copy through first-class mail. The complaint will provide the Entry Date, the Answer Date, and the Original Trial Date. A tenant who intends to fight the eviction process must file an answer to the complaint by the Answer Date. If the tenant requests discovery from the landlord, the court will automatically delay the Original Trial Date for two weeks. If the tenant failed to file an answer with the court by the Answer Date, he/she may still attend the trial and provide information. However, he/she should be prepared to provide an explanation as to why he/she failed to meet file an answer in a timely fashion.

A tenant may request a Motion to Dismiss if the landlord has failed to properly follow the steps of the eviction process.

A tenant who has failed to pay rent, may avoid an eviction even after receiving a Summons and Complaint from the court by paying all outstanding rent, any interest owed on outstanding rent, and the cost incurred by the landlord in filing the Summons and Complaint with the court on or before the Answer Date.

Both sides will be provided with time to present their case. If the tenant fails to answer the complaint, the judge may make a default ruling for in the landlord’s favor.

Once Eviction Occurs

If the court rules in favor of the landlord, the tenant has 10 days to file an appeal. If the tenant fails to appeal, the clerk of court will send the landlord an execution on the 11th day after the judgement is made. This is the court’s eviction order and gives the landlord permission to have a constable or sheriff physically remove the tenant from the property.

Make sure to read the Mass. General Laws c. 139, § 19, c. 186, § 13, c. 239, as well as Massachusetts’ landlord-tenant law before starting the eviction process. Landlords should make sure to educate themselves on their rights and responsibilities on this topic.

Eviction Process in Other States

Other Resources for Massachusetts Landlords & Tenants