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Eviction Laws and Tenant Rights in Massachusetts

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In a Nutshell

Landlords in Massachusetts can’t just change the locks, toss your belongings out on the front yard, or shut down essential utilities. A landlord must follow the eviction process in order to have a tenant evicted for any reason. Here's an overview of what this means for tenants in Massachusetts.

Written by Upsolve Team
Updated November 9, 2021

Facing an eviction is a tough situation. It may feel like the landlord has all the power. Fortunately, Massachusetts law provides several eviction protections to renters. This article goes through what eviction is, what the process looks like in Massachusetts, and what protections you have. If you’re a tenant in Massachusetts who’s facing a potential eviction because you haven’t paid all of your rent or your lease is expiring, this article may be helpful to you.

What Is Eviction? 

Eviction is a process landlords can use to make a renter leave their real estate. A landlord must first provide notice, then file an eviction lawsuit, and ultimately receive a court judgment to force the tenant out. If your landlord is trying to evict you without a court order, then they’re violating the law through what’s known as an “illegal eviction” or “illegal lockout.”

There are four types of evictions in Massachusetts. 

  1. Missed payment: When a tenant misses paying the rent, the landlord only needs to provide a 14-day notice before asking the tenant to leave. 

  2. Lease violations: If the tenant has any lease violations, the landlord can evict them after providing a 7-day notice. 

  3. Illegal acts: If the tenant commits an illegal act on the premises, they can be evicted after receiving a 7-day notice. 

  4. End of lease period: If a lease comes to an end, whether it’s a year-long, month-to-month, or week-to-week, the landlord must give 30 days’ notice before starting the eviction process. 

Who Can Be Evicted in Massachusetts?

To be evicted, you need to be in a landlord-tenant relationship, where the landlord rents a property that they own to a tenant. People who live with the tenant, but aren’t on the lease can also be evicted. So if someone is evicted and they have children, their children will be forced out too.

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Why Can Someone Be Evicted in Massachusetts? 

There are three main reasons that you can be evicted. First, you can be evicted for nonpayment of rent. If you haven’t paid your full rent or if you’ve stopped paying the rent for a certain amount of time, your landlord can evict you with 14 days’ notice. Second, if you’ve breached your lease for any other reason, such as damaging the property, causing too many noise complaints, or having a pet that is not allowed, your landlord can evict you with seven days’ notice. Finally, when a lease expires, whether it’s a month-to-month or a year-long lease, the landlord needs to give you 30 days notice before starting an eviction process.

Late, Short, or Behind on Rent? 

Massachusetts doesn’t provide any slack for tenants in terms of being late or short on rent. Once you’re late on rent, the landlord only needs to provide you with notice that you have to leave in 14 days before they start the eviction process.

Lease Expiration or Termination

In Massachusetts, you can face eviction when your lease expires or is terminated. If your lease expires or your landlord terminates it, you no longer have a right to live at the property, even if you pay rent. But the consequences for termination and expiration are quite different. With a lease expiration, the landlord technically doesn’t have a right to evict you when the lease expires. Instead, they need to give you 30 days’ notice to move out. Then they can file for an eviction.

If you violate any of the terms of your rental agreement, your landlord can terminate it. For example, if your rental agreement says you can’t have any pets and you get a cat, you’ve violated the terms. Similarly, most rental agreements will say that you can’t do illegal drugs on the premises. If you do, you can be evicted. In order to evict you for a breach of the lease, your landlord just needs to provide seven days for you to leave before filing an eviction.

The Massachusetts Eviction Process 

Massachusetts has a complicated eviction process. This section walks you through how it works.

What does a landlord have to do to begin an eviction?

Landlords need to provide notice before filing for eviction. There are four reasons a landlord can file for eviction and each comes with different notice requirements. If you’re late on rent, the landlord will provide you 14 days to leave or face eviction. If you violate the rental agreement the landlord needs to provide you seven days’ notice to leave before starting eviction. They must give you the same amount of time if you commit illegal conduct, which breaks the rental agreement but is treated as its own reason under state law. If your lease expires, then the landlord needs to provide you with 30 days’ notice to leave before facing eviction.

What happens once the eviction action is filed with the court? 

Once the notice period expires, the landlord files an eviction lawsuit in district court. The landlord needs to serve you with a summons at least seven days before the eviction hearing, but no more than 30 days prior. They can serve this through a sheriff or someone the court appoints. The summons will tell you the court date and the reason for the eviction. It can be given to you in person, left at your home, or mailed first class to you. Depending on where you are filing in the state, you may have to file in a housing court.

Interestingly, an eviction case can only be filed on Mondays. The eviction hearings can only occur the second Monday, Thursday, or Friday after the filing date, or the third Tuesday or Wednesday after. As a result, the hearing will typically occur 10 to 16 days after the eviction lawsuit is first filed.

While you aren't required to file an answer with the court, if you choose to, you must do so within seven days of the lawsuit being filed. Note that if you don't file an answer but appear for the hearing, the eviction trial will be delayed a week. Additionally, if you appear for the hearing but the landlord doesn’t, that will also delay the hearing.

If you fail to appear at the hearing, you could be subject to a default judgment for the landlord. A default judgment is when the court rules for the side that shows up without hearing much evidence, if any. In other words, if you don’t show up, the landlord could win, no matter how bad their case is.

If the eviction lawsuit concerns the nonpayment of rent, you can stop it if you pay the rent that you owe within seven days after the landlord files the suit.

Telling Your Side of the Story: Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims

The main way you can answer an eviction lawsuit is by giving an affirmative defense or counterclaim. Affirmative defenses are reasons that the tenant shouldn’t be evicted, while counterclaims are arguments you raise when you’re seeking monetary damages. You can raise both affirmative defenses and counterclaims in the answer form that you fill out if you want to respond to the eviction suit.

You may have an affirmative defense if...

  • You have a justifiable reason for not paying your rent. For example, if you had to pay to fix an issue with your apartment that the landlord was responsible for fixing.

  • Your landlord is seeking an eviction to discriminate against you.

  • You’re facing eviction as retaliation for asserting your rights.

  • The landlord didn’t provide you with appropriate notice.

  • The landlord’s allegations aren’t true.

You’ll raise counterclaims if you feel you’re owed money. This will typically be for rent you feel you shouldn’t have had to pay, such as if you had to deduct rent to make repairs or if the landlord overcharged you. Winning a counterclaim typically won’t stop an eviction, but it will likely reduce the amount of money you owe.

What Happens After an Eviction Trial?

The Massachusetts court will rule on an eviction the day of, but the court won’t issue a writ of execution to evict you for at least 10 days. After 10 days have passed since the judgment, the landlord then can ask the court to file one. The writ has to be requested within three months of the judgment.

The sheriff will enforce the writ. They’ll give you 48 hours to leave the property. They can only give you a writ between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on a weekday. They can’t deliver a writ on a holiday. If you have extenuating circumstances, you can seek a delay of the eviction of 6-12 months.

If you want to appeal, you have to file a notice of appeal within 10 days of the judgment.

Practical Tips for Tenants Facing Eviction in Massachusetts

While it’s important to be aware of the eviction laws in Massachusetts, there are also practical steps you should take to prevent eviction.

First, if you’re going to trial, you should compile all evidence you plan to use to back up your claims, such as photos, video, or documents. You should consider having a municipal building inspector evaluate the property and provide a formal report about the property. If you can’t make it to court, you should reach out to the court and ask for a delay. If the case can’t be delayed, ask how you can avoid a default judgment.

Given that Massachusetts law provides opportunities for you to pay rent that you owe up to seven days after the landlord files the suit, to avoid an eviction, you should try to pay your rent. If you do pay it, be sure to keep a copy of the payment record to avoid facing eviction.

It’s also a good idea to stay in constant contact with your landlord through your tenancy. If any issues come up before the eviction is filed, see if you can resolve the issue. You want to avoid an eviction filing at all costs. Even when an eviction is only filed, it can stay on your record and hurt your ability to rent in the future. Similarly, if you’re facing an eviction, you should try to negotiate with your landlord or their lawyer. Your landlord might be willing to drop the case if you agree to leave within a certain amount of time.

If you and your landlord come to any agreement, get it in writing, and be sure to keep a copy of the agreement.

Tenant Resources in Massachusetts

If you need more information or help to deal with an eviction in Massachusetts, there are many resources you can use, including:

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