If you have received a notice from your landlord and are facing eviction, please contact the Housing Consumer Education Center directly at 413-233-1600 or 1-800-332-9667, ext. 1600. You may also email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information on how to represent yourself in court, www.MassLegalHelp.org/housing
For forms and additional documents, visit www.icandocs.org/ma/
Springfield Partners for Community Action, in partnership with Massachusetts Justice Project, Western Mass Legal Services and Housing Court, holds a weekly eviction clinic on Wednesday evenings at 619 State Street, Springfield from 5:30 – 6:30 pm. The clinic will help to educate and inform tenants facing eviction on their rights and responsibilities and prepare them for housing court hearings.
The Eviction Process
If you are a tenant with a lease, your landlord may attempt to evict you for nonpayment of rent or for violations of your lease (for example, keeping pets without permission or having caused excessive damage to your apartment). With the exception of eviction for nonpayment of rent, a landlord is not required to specify a reason for terminating a tenancy at will.
In either case, your landlord cannot evict you without following the proper legal process for eviction. Your landlord must go to court and obtain a judgment against you. Only a judge can force you to leave your apartment. Although eviction can be a lengthy process, it is wise to pay attention to details and timelines if you wish to remain as a tenant.
“Notice to Quit”: The first step your landlord must take is to send you a written “Notice to Quit.” This Notice to Quit must happen before your landlord can start the eviction process in court. The Notice will be for a length of time (usually 14 or 30 days) depending on the reason for the eviction, and it must be served to you personally by your landlord, a sheriff or constable, or sent to you by certified mail that you have signed for. The landlord must be able to show proof that you have received the Notice to Quit.
Notice to Quit for Nonpayment (“14-Day Notice”): The “14-day” Notice to Quit for Nonpayment of Rent is given if the landlord claims you owe back rent (rent arrears). If you have a lease, the law says that you can cure (reinstate) your tenancy by paying the back-owed rent plus costs before the “Answer Day.” The Answer Day is the Monday before the date of your court hearing, which will be specified on the Summary Process Summons and Complaint form (discussed below).
If you are a tenant-at-will and this is your first 14-day Notice within the past 12 months, you have 10 days to pay the back rent and avoid any further action for eviction. The Notice to Quit must include a statement notifying you of the 10-day grace period. If it doesn’t, you have until the “Answer Day” to pay the back rent plus costs. If you have missed your deadline or have received more than one 14-day Notice within a 12-month period, you can still pay the back rent. If your landlord accepts the money as rent, the eviction is canceled. In common practice, judges will seldom terminate a tenancy for reasons of nonpayment so long as the tenant has brought the rent current by the time s/he appears in court (unless there has been a recurring pattern of late payment).
Notice to Quit for Possession (“30-Day Notice”): Landlords can give tenants-at-will a Notice to Quit for Possession for any reason other than nonpayment of rent. It is not necessary for the landlord to specify why s/he is evicting you in the notice (no-fault eviction). If you are a tenant-at-will (month to month tenancy without a lease), you must receive the notice at least one full rental period or 30 days (whichever is greater) before the date of termination (corresponding to the day before your rent is normally due) listed on the Notice to Quit.
For example, if you pay your rent on the first of each month and your landlord wants to end your tenancy by July 31st, you must receive the written Notice to Quit for Possession no later than June 30th. If you receive notice on or after July 1st, the Notice will not be effective until August 31st. If the Notice incorrectly states an earlier date (July 15th, for example), it is not valid; and the judge should dismiss the eviction action based on an improper Notice to Quit.
A tenant with a lease can only be evicted for cause while the lease is in effect. The tenant must have violated the lease in some material way. The Notice to Quit for Possession must specify the reason(s) for the eviction. The notice period for a Notice to Quit for Possession should be specified in the lease and may be as little as seven days.
Summary Process Summons and Complaint: After the term of the Notice to Quit has passed, your landlord can start court action to evict you. This is called a Summary Process action. Your landlord will have a sheriff or constable (it cannot be the landlord) serve you with a Summary Process Summons and Complaint form. This form will state the date that your case is scheduled for a court hearing and tell you that you can file a written “Answer” with the court. It must be served to you in person, and it must be served at least seven (but not more than 30) days, before the Entry Date, which is the date by which the landlord must file the complaint with the court showing service. The Entry Date can be found on the Summary Process Summons and Complaint form.
Filing an Answer: Your Answer allows you to list your defenses and any counterclaims you wish to make against the landlord. You must file the Answer form no later than the Answer Day, which also appears on the Summary Process Summons and Complaint form. It is usually the Monday before your court date.
If you are income eligible, the Legal Services office serving your area may be able to represent you in court or inform you on how to fill out and file the Answer form. Some Legal Services offices offer a free eviction defense clinic, where you can get assistance in filing out an Answer form and other court papers. If you are not income eligible for their services, contact the Housing Consumer Education Center (HCEC) nearest you for assistance in filing pro se (for yourself). You can get an Answer form from the Court Clerk, Legal Services, or the HCEC. (You should also mail a copy of this Answer to the landlord or his/her attorney.)
In some instances, it may also be advisable to file a Discovery demand, which will help you find out more about the landlord’s case against you and will automatically postpone your court date by two weeks. You must file your Discovery form with the court and deliver a copy to your landlord or his attorney by the Monday before your trial date. Your Discovery demand must include a notice to the landlord of the postponement of the trial. If the landlord does not respond to the Discovery within 10 days, you can ask the court to make him/her respond. If s/he still does not respond, you can have the case dismissed.
The Eviction Hearing
Trial Day: Your Trial Day is the day you must appear in court. If an attorney does not represent you, be very careful to prepare your case so you will be able to present it clearly to the judge. Make a list of all important questions for your landlord and the points you wish to address. If you have witnesses, bring them and be sure they are prepared. The landlord goes first and the tenant goes second. You should stand when addressing the judge, and do not interrupt the other side when they are speaking.
Defenses and Counterclaims: Defenses are the reasons why your landlord should not be allowed to evict you. Examples include: establishing that your landlord knowingly violated the state sanitary code, showing that your landlord’s stated reason(s) for eviction are invalid, proving that s/he has rejected your offer to pay past-due rent, or showing that s/he has not followed proper procedures during the eviction process. Counterclaims are legal claims for money that can be raised against the landlord during the eviction process, such as improper handling of your security deposit. If the amount owed to you based on the counterclaim exceeds the amount you owe to your landlord, you will not be evicted in a nonpayment or no-fault eviction case.
The Judge’s Decision
Once the judge has had an opportunity to hear the case, s/he will most likely take the case “under advisement,” and you will receive a written decision in the mail. If the judge rules against you, then you have 10 days from the date the judgment is entered to appeal the decision or to vacate the unit. Your landlord cannot evict you until your appeal is decided, but you may have to post an appeal bond (that is, pay money). This bond can be waived by filing a “Motion to Waive” when you file your appeal notice. Appeals are often a costly process and should only be undertaken if there was a serious flaw in the judicial process. You cannot appeal a judge’s decision simply because you are dissatisfied with the result.
If you have raised defenses or claims about the landlord’s failure to repair defective conditions, and the Judge decides that you are entitled to some money (even if your landlord is entitled to more), you still have a chance to keep your home. If you choose to stay in your current apartment, you must – within one week after having received written notice of the decision from the Court Clerk – pay the balance due, plus the interest and costs of the suit, minus any money you have already paid.
The Execution of an Eviction
Ten days after a judgment that gives possession of the apartment to the landlord – and providing that you have not filed an appeal in the interim - the landlord can obtain a Writ of Execution giving him/her written permission to have you and your belongings physically removed from the apartment. The Writ of Execution is good for three months. (After three months, it is no longer valid.) The landlord can only carry out the Execution after giving you 48 hours advance notice. It must be on a weekday between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM (weekends or legal holidays are not permissible).
The Writ of Execution must be served to you by a sheriff or a constable. It must inform you of the name of the eviction storage company at which your property will be stored if you do not remove it before you vacate the apartment. (It must be a company whose rates have been filed with, and not been rejected by the Department of Public Safety.) If you would prefer to have your property stored somewhere else, you have the right to specify where you wish it to be stored. Your property must be inventoried before it is placed in storage, and the storage company must give you one-time access to remove items of primarily personal or sentimental value without charge. The company will charge you for the storage of all other items, and has the right to sell your property after six months if other arrangements have not been made. For this reason, it is best to vacate the apartment and remove your property voluntarily no later than after the Execution has been served.
ANY attempt by your landlord to regain possession of an apartment without going through proper court proceedings and obtaining a valid Execution is illegal. This means that the landlord:
- Cannot change the locks.
- Cannot remove your possessions.
- Cannot terminate your utility service.
- Cannot threaten to do any of the above without obtaining a valid execution.
If you have any questions about your rights before or during the eviction process, consult a lawyer or call your local Housing Consumer Education Center.