Massachusetts Small Claims Court Process

Massachusetts Small Claims Court Process

Last Updated: January 13, 2023 by Ashley Porter

Quick Facts Answer
Small Claim Maximum $7,000 (base claim amount)
Deadline to File 4 years – Consumer Protection Act violations

6 years – Other lease agreement violations

Filing Fees $40 – Claims up to $500

$50 – Claims from $500.01 to $2,000

$100 – Claims from $2,000.01 to $5,000

$150 – Claims over $5,000.01

Appeal Deadline 10 days

Small Claims Court Basics in Massachusetts

Small Claims Court is an informal court designed for minor cases limited to a maximum claim amount. The trial does not involve a jury. Instead, the plaintiff and defendant present their case to a magistrate, who makes a decision.

Common suits filed by landlords include:

  • Recovery of unpaid rent
  • Damages that exceed the amount of the security deposit
  • Failure to uphold the responsibilities of the rental agreement
  • Early termination of a lease

Common suits filed by tenants include:

  • Failure to return the security deposit correctly
  • Failure to uphold the responsibilities of the rental agreement
  • Overcharging for damages

How Long Does the Small Claims Court Process Take in Massachusetts?

A typical small claims case in Massachusetts takes one to two months, from the date of filing, but can be longer if there are problems serving the defendant, the trial is continued, or other delays occur.

How Much Can You Sue For in Small Claims Court in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, the maximum base claim amount in Small Claims Court is $7,000. The base claim amount is the amount that you believe you are owed. Because the security deposit and consumer protection rules allow for double or triple damages, you may be awarded more than $7,000.

For example, if your landlord failed to return your $5,000 security deposit, you could file a case for a base claim amount of $5,000 but awarded $15,000 in damages plus interest, court costs, and attorneys’ fees.

To attempt to recover a higher amount, the suit must be filed as a civil case in the District, Housing, or Municipal Court.

How Long Do You Have to File a Small Claims Case in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts,you have up to 4 years from the date of the dispute to file a small claims case for a violation of the Consumer Protection Act. Any other violation of a lease agreement (written or oral) must be filed within 6 years from the date of the dispute.

A violation of the Consumer Protection Act includes any unfair or deceptive act in the rental of residential property, which specifically includes violations of the following statutes:

Are Lawyers Needed or Allowed in Small Claims Court in Massachusetts?

Small Claims Court is designed to be simple and not require an attorney. However, either party can be represented by an attorney if they so choose.

Where are Small Claims Cases Filed in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, Small Claims Court is a division of District or Housing Court (or Municipal Court in Boston). Small claims are filed in any such court within the county where the rental property is located or where the defendant or plaintiff lives, works, or does business.

If your county has a District Court and Housing Court, you can file in either location. In Boston, the case can be filed in Housing Court or Municipal Court. To determine the correct court, you can use the court directory.

How to File a Small Claims Case in Massachusetts

Step 1: If the case is regarding a violation of the Consumer Protection Act, you are required to send a demand letter at least 30 days before filing a small claims case.

A violation of the Consumer Protection Act includes any unfair or deceptive practice in the rental of residential property, which may include:

  • Violation of health, sanitary, and building codes
  • Retaliation
  • Illegal eviction or utility shut-off
  • Refusal to make repairs
  • Violation of the right to quiet enjoyment
  • Breach of the warranty of habitability
  • Violation of the security deposit law
  • Illegal terms in the lease agreement
  • Omission of vital information from the lease agreement like your name
  • Failure to provide a copy of the lease agreement

If the landlord has not responded to the demand letter or the issue is still not resolved within 30 days, you may proceed with a small claims case.

Step 2: Complete a Statement of Small Claim and Notice using the fillable PDF or the online questionnaire to generate and download a completed form.

Step 3: File your Statement of Small Claim and Notice in person, by mail, or electronically. Attach any documentation you have to support your claim, like the demand letter, lease agreement, apartment photos, etc.

Electronic: After completing the online questionnaire you will be prompted to register for an account and file electronically.

In Person or By Mail: Use the online questionnaire or fillable PDF to complete your Statement of Small Claim and Notice. Contact the court clerk to determine how many copies are required. Bring or mail the copies to the court clerk along with the filing fee.

Step 4: Pay the filing fee. Payment can be made by cash, credit card, check, or money order, depending on your filing method.

How Much Does it Cost to File a Case in Small Claims Court in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, the filing fee for a small claims case ranges from $40 to $150 depending on the claim amount:

  • $500 or less – $40
  • $500.01 to $2,000 – $50
  • $2,000.01 to $5,000 – $100
  • $5,000.01 to $7,000 – $150

What if You Can’t Afford to File a Case?

You can still file a case if you cannot afford the fees by filing an Affidavit of Indigency.

Small Claims Court Process in Massachusetts

After filing a small claims case in Massachusetts, the clerk will issue a hearing date and serve the defendant by mail, and the defendant has the opportunity to file an Answer or Counterclaim.

Step 1: Service on the defendant is completed by the court clerk by first-class mail if their address is within Massachusetts or certified mail if the address is in another state.

Step 2: Defendant’s response. The defendant may file an Answer or a Counterclaim, but it is not required. If the defendant files a response, they are required to send you a copy.

Step 3: Trial. On the trial date, you should bring copies of any evidence you have to support your claim. The magistrate will give you and the defendant an opportunity to provide your arguments before they decide to dismiss the case or issue a judgment.

If the defendant does not attend the trial, the magistrate may ask you to prove the amount claimed in damages before issuing a default judgment.

Winning a Small Claims Judgment in Massachusetts

If you win the judgment in Massachusetts, the defendant may appeal the case, you may be paid the judgment within the allotted time period, or you may need to pursue additional actions to recover the debt.

The defendant can appeal the decision within 10 days after the magistrate issues the judgment by filing a Notice of Appeal. However, if the defendant was properly served, but did not attend the trial, they lose their right to an appeal.

At the trial, the magistrate will determine a time period for repayment or schedule a payment hearing to establish an installment plan. If the defendant does not attend the trial, the judgment will be payable within 30 days, unless otherwise ordered by the court. In the best case, the judgment debtor pays their debt within this period.

If the debtor is delinquent on their payment or refuses to pay, you can recover the debt through bank or wage garnishment or property seizure through a Writ of Execution.

You have 20 years to collect or renew a judgment before it expires. A judgment collects interest at a rate of 12% per year.