Massachusetts Eviction Laws: Process & Guide for Landlords in 2022
Having worked so hard to create a portfolio of rentable residential properties, you’re justifiably proud of the business you’ve built. You likely have property managers in place who cater to the needs of your tenants. Plus, you’ve made sure your properties are as attractive as possible to Massachusetts residents.
Unfortunately, all of that hard work goes out of the window when you need to evict a tenant.
There are many reasons why you may need to evict somebody from one of your properties. But whatever your reason may be, eviction isn’t as simple as telling somebody they have to leave. There are several crucial Massachusetts eviction laws you have to follow to conduct the process correctly.
In this article, we explore the Massachusetts eviction process, explain how to file an eviction notice in Massachusetts, and make you aware of the eviction laws in MA that you need to follow at all times.
Grounds for Eviction in Massachusetts
As mentioned, there are many reasons why a property investor may choose to start an eviction process. Massachusetts law provides protection for both the property owner and tenant, depending on the specific situation. The following are potential grounds for eviction, though many come with legal caveats that you must consider before starting the process.
Reason No. 1 – Failure to Pay Rent
Massachusetts allows landlords to evict tenants who haven’t paid their rent in specific circumstances. Before starting the eviction process, you must provide the tenant with a 14-day notice following the missed payment. This notice provides the tenant with an opportunity to make good on the missed payment before you start the eviction process.
Massachusetts eviction laws state that this notice must contain the following information:
- A statement telling the tenant they have 14 days to pay the overdue rent or move out of the rental property.
- Notice that you will terminate the lease if the tenant doesn’t undertake one of these two activities.
- Information related to how the landlord can file for an eviction lawsuit in court if the rent isn’t paid or the tenant doesn’t move out within 14 days.
Assuming your tenant doesn’t pay or move out, you must file a summons and complaint with the court to begin the Massachusetts eviction process. However, the summons and complaint aren’t guarantees that you will be able to evict your tenant. The tenant receives a copy of both, along with a date by which the tenant must file their answer to the court.
That date is crucial.
Massachusetts eviction laws state that a tenant who pays the overdue rent, along with any relevant interest or court costs, before the answer date can’t be evicted.
Reason No. 2 – Illegal Activity
If you discover that your tenant is engaged in any form of illegal activity, Massachusetts eviction laws state you can file a written seven-day notice to vacate the property. This applies specifically to tenants who pay rent weekly or daily. The notice period may be longer for tenants who have written leases, depending on the county where your property is located.
Examples of eviction-worthy activities include, but aren’t limited to:
- Consumption, distribution, or creation of illegal controlled substances, such as narcotics and some types of alcohol
- Possession of an illegal firearm
Note that these laws also apply to co-residents and guests. Even if the tenant doesn’t commit the illegal act themselves, you likely still have grounds for eviction if somebody does something illegal on a tenanted property.
Reason No. 3 – Non-Renewal of the Lease
Massachusetts eviction laws state that you can’t evict a tenant without probable cause. In ideal circumstances, this means the tenant will follow their lease agreement to the letter until that agreement ends. If they don’t violate any of your rules, they get to stay until the agreement’s end date. The tenant must leave the property by the agreement’s end date unless you choose to extend or renew the lease.
This is important because not all tenants are under a lease. Some are at-will tenants who pay rent on a month-to-month basis.
With at-will tenancy, you’re required to provide a minimum of 30 days’ notice of your intention to evict the tenant. The same rules apply to the at-will tenant, who must also provide at least 30 days’ notice of their intention to vacate your property.
The at-will laws may also apply if you have a tenant under a lease. Once the lease agreement ends, you have the option of moving the tenant onto an at-will agreement. Assuming the tenant goes along with this, you then have to meet the 30-day notice requirement if you decide to evict them.
Reason No. 4 – Lease Violations
If you have a tenant under a lease, that lease acts as a written contract dictating how both you and the tenant must act. The end of the agreement typically relates to maintaining the property in a habitable condition. It may also include clauses related to rent increases and the options you’ll provide to the tenant once the agreement ends.
On the tenant’s side, the lease agreement dictates how the tenant must treat your property. You’ll likely incorporate conditions related to proper maintenance, pets, and smoking, among others. Allowing other people to live in the property without your permission is also usually a lease violation. If the tenant violates any of the conditions in the lease agreement, you may have grounds to evict them under Massachusetts eviction laws.
You’re required to provide notice if you choose to evict based on lease violations. However, eviction laws in MA are murky in terms of when you need to provide this notice. The laws don’t provide specific guidance on how much notice you must give a tenant when evicting due to a lease violation. Instead, the notice time is dictated by the agreement itself. If you don’t have a specific timeframe outlined in your lease agreement, most leases default to a minimum of seven days’ notice.
The Massachusetts Eviction Process – A Step-By-Step Guide
The Massachusetts eviction process varies depending on several factors. The nature of the tenancy dictates the notice periods you must provide. The grounds for eviction may also affect the process, as may any local laws or regulations you have to follow in your town or city. Still, the process has some general steps that you’ll likely follow when evicting a tenant. Here, we provide those general steps along with some information about the approximate Massachusetts eviction process timeline.
Step No. 1 – Send a Notice to Comply
A notice to comply is a written document that you use to ask the tenant to conduct an activity that could help them save their tenancy. Using overdue payment as an example, the notice to comply is the 14 days the tenant has to pay their rent.
It’s best to work with an attorney when filing this notice. Doing so ensures you complete the process correctly so your tenant can’t point to an illegitimate notice to comply as a reason for them not to leave. Make sure you sign and date the notice to demonstrate that you’ve followed Massachusetts eviction laws before filing an official complaint.
Note that if a tenant meets the conditions of the notice to comply, you can’t evict them.
Step No. 2 – File a Complaint
Filing a complaint with the court serves as the official start for the Massachusetts eviction process. Before filing this complaint, you may have to provide your tenant with the opportunity to make good on the issue leading to the complaint. Overdue rent payments are a good example because you must provide the tenant with 14 days to pay before you file with the court.
Once you file a complaint, both the complaint and a summons get sent to your tenant. You’ll also need to file several documents to serve as your evidence for the complaint, including:
- A copy of the Notice to Quit document you served to the tenant
- Your copy of the Return of Service
Finally, you must pay fees to file a complaint, which typically range from $120 to $180, depending on where you file. The general timeline for filing complaints is between seven and 30 days starting from when you issued a notice to the tenant to vacate your property.
Step No. 3 – Serve the Tenant
Before your complaint is filed with the appropriate justice court, a court official needs to serve the documents to your tenant. There are several ways to do this:
- The official may post the documents to the tenant themselves. This involves leaving the documents in a visible and secure place where the official can reasonably expect your tenant to see them.
- Some officials choose to serve documents to the tenant in person, which means they have first-hand proof that the tenant received them.
- Your court official might mail the documents using first-class mail. As this comes with the risk of the tenant claiming they didn’t receive the documents, the official uses return of service as part of this process.
You must leave this process to a court-appointed official. Eviction laws in MA don’t allow the landlord or their attorney to serve the tenant directly.
In terms of your Massachusetts eviction process timeline, the documents need to be served to the tenant between seven and 30 days before they’re filed to the court. As such, you may need to wait up to a month after beginning the complaints process before the tenant receives their summons.
Step No. 4 – Ask for Possession
Once the tenant is served, you’re in a position to ask for possession of your property. This involves filing a motion to obtain a judgment for possession. Part of this includes sharing the grounds for eviction. You need to provide strong evidence that you have a reasonable reason for asking your tenant to leave. This can include bank statements showing a lack of payment, physical evidence of law or lease-breaking, and copies of the notice documents you sent before starting the complaint.
If the tenant fails to show up for the court hearing related to this motion, Massachusetts eviction laws grant the victory to the landlord. If you fail to show up, the motion is rescheduled for seven days.
Assuming your tenant doesn’t show up, you can skip to Step No. 6. However, many tenants will disagree with your motion for possession by replying to the summons and offering evidence of their own.
Step No. 5 – Going to Court
A court date is scheduled if your tenant shows up to the hearing for the motion to obtain a judgment. Massachusetts eviction laws work in favor of the tenant here because they don’t need to present a direct reply during the hearing. As long as they show up, a court date is set. Even so, most courts encourage tenants to file a written answer to the motion within seven days after your documents are entered into court.
If the tenant fails to provide a written answer within seven days, the hearing is postponed for another week.
Assuming the tenant answers properly and wishes to take the case to court, you need to provide evidence to support your case:
- Photographic or video evidence
- Rent receipts
- Bank statements
- Copies of your lease and deed
Eviction hearings run on a specific timeline in Massachusetts. After filing your complaint and summons, you’ll usually have to wait between 10 and 16 days for the eviction hearing. The court will schedule this hearing on either the third Tuesday or Wednesday after filing or the second Monday, Thursday, or Friday.
Step No. 6 – Regain Possession
As long as you have a strong enough case, you should succeed in evicting your tenant. You also win if the tenant doesn’t show up to the eviction hearing or fails to answer their summons.
Following their loss, the tenant has the option of filing an appeal for reconsideration. Providing this doesn’t happen, the court issues a Writ of Execution 10 days after your victory.
The Writ of Execution confirms that the tenant must vacate the property. However, it also gives them at least 10 days to do so, starting from the date the writ is issued. The writ is delivered to the tenant by a law enforcement officer between 9 am and 5 pm on a weekday. Officers can’t deliver writs on holidays or weekends. Once the tenant receives the writ, they have 48 hours to leave your property.
The authorities can remove a tenant by force if they don’t comply. But you should never get involved directly. Involving yourself in the process could lead to you accidentally engaging in an illegal eviction method that causes legal problems.
Though this step should take about 10 days, two instances could cause it to take longer:
- The tenant leaves their belongings behind
- Stays of Execution
Leaving Belongings Behind
Massachusetts eviction laws don’t provide specific guidance on what to do with any belongings a tenant leaves behind. Still, it’s unwise to sell or discard any belongings without giving the tenant a chance to reclaim them.
Work with an attorney to create a reasonable timeframe for your former tenant to reclaim their belongings. Contact the tenant directly to inform them of this timeframe and let them know what will happen to their belongings if they don’t claim them. If the timeframe elapses, you should be able to sell or dispose of the belongings.
Consider placing a clause in your lease agreements to get ahead of these potential issues. This clause should tell prospective tenants about the course of action you’ll take with belongings they leave behind.
Stays of Execution
You may be subject to Stays of Execution under MA eviction elderly laws or disability laws. If a disabled tenant or a tenant over the age of 60 successfully applies for a Stay of Execution, they receive an extra 12 months to vacate your property. Tenants who don’t meet the age or disability requirements can also apply for a Stay of Execution, though they’re only entitled to six months if they’re successful.
It's up to a court judge to decide whether your tenant should receive a Stay of Execution.
Explaining the COVID-19 Moratorium
In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) worked with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to create the COVID-19 moratorium. This agency order temporarily stopped all residential evictions as a means of slowing the spread of COVID-19. It also provided relief to tenants who may have struggled to maintain their rent payments during a period when many faced employment uncertainties.
The original order came into effect on September 4, 2020, and ran through to December 31, 2020. It was then subject to some extensions, leading to it running until August 26, 2021.
The moratorium no longer applies in most towns and cities in Massachusetts. As such, it can’t get in the way of your efforts to evict a tenant. But it’s still worth speaking to an attorney and checking with local government officials to ensure no local-level moratoriums are in place before you begin the eviction process.
Eviction Defenses in Massachusetts
There are several ways that a tenant can defend themselves against the eviction process. Massachusetts eviction laws may help the tenant overcome your decision to evict in specific circumstances.
Defense No. 1 – Payment of Overdue Rent
If a tenant is being evicted because of overdue rent, the most obvious defense is to pay the rent owed, along with any penalties that apply. As mentioned previously, the tenant has until the deadline for answering a court summons and complaint to make these payments. Assuming your tenant makes this payment, you must provide them with a timestamped receipt stating the payment was made. Tenants can use these receipts to defend themselves if landlords attempt to evict them after they’ve made good on overdue rent.
Defense No. 2 – The Fit and Habitable Defense
Tenants may defend against eviction for failing to pay rent because you’ve failed to keep your property fit and habitable.
Massachusetts eviction laws state that your rental property must comply with all current sanitary and building codes. It must also be in a condition that doesn’t harm a tenant’s safety, health, or well-being. The Mass.gov website provides comprehensive information about the standards your property must meet to be rentable.
As a side note, you also have obligations to meet if the tenant highlights maintenance issues on your property. Upon receiving written notice from the tenant, you have five days to arrange for a repair and 14 days to complete the work. Failure to complete the repair entitles the tenant to make the repairs themselves and deduct the cost from their rent. The caveat here is that repairs can’t exceed the value of four months of rent payments. But if the need for repairs gets to that stage, you have more serious problems related to your building’s standards to contend with.
Defense No. 3 – The Landlord Uses a “Self-Help” Eviction
Massachusetts eviction laws state that you can’t evict a tenant yourself. You can’t simply turn up at your property and force a tenant to leave. It’s also illegal to engage in any measures that prevent the tenant from accessing your property or make the property uninhabitable, such as changing the locks or turning the utilities off.
You have to secure a court order before evicting a tenant.
Failure to do so opens the door for your tenant to sue you for damages. In some cases, the tenant can even repossess the rental property. Specifically, you can be forced to pay a fine of between $25 and $300, in addition to being liable for damages amounting to three months’ rent. Particularly egregious cases of self-help evictions can even lead to the landlord serving a prison sentence of up to six months.
Defense No. 4 – Discrimination
The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for you to evict a tenant for any discriminatory reason. That means a tenant can use discrimination as an eviction defense if they believe you’re asking them to leave your property based on any of the following factors:
- National origin
- Familial status
The Fair Housing Act is supported by the Massachusetts Antidiscrimination Law, which includes several other categories that fall under the discrimination umbrella:
- Visual impairment
- Hearing loss
- Armed forces or veteran status
- Genetic information
- Sexual orientation
Interestingly, Massachusetts’ anti-discrimination laws extend to properties that contain lead paint. But they don’t apply in the way you might think. Instead of making it illegal to rent a property that contains lead paint, the laws prevent you from refusing to rent the property to a tenant. This applies even if the tenant has children. In these cases, the tenant may stay in the property and then use the fit and habitable defense if you try to evict them. Ensuring your property doesn’t contain lead paint is a simple way to prevent this defense.
Defense No. 5 – Failing to Follow the Massachusetts Eviction Process
There are several mistakes that landlords can make when attempting to follow the Massachusetts eviction process. Failing to provide the appropriate notice is the most common. For example, a tenant can use this defense if you don’t provide them with 14 days to make good on a missed rent payment.
However, this defense can also extend to other procedures, such as serving the tenant or failing to provide appropriate evidence in court. This defense doesn’t always lead to the tenant winning the dispute. In many cases, it simply delays the eviction process until the landlord corrects any mistakes made in the procedures. For example, you may be able to fix notice issues by providing the appropriate notice before filing a new complaint.
When Should You Hire an Experienced Lawyer?
This is a difficult question to answer because many landlords believe they can win eviction cases based on the evidence alone. While that may be the case, hiring a lawyer is still recommended. Attorneys understand Massachusetts eviction laws and can ensure you follow the correct processes at all times.
Furthermore, hiring an attorney isn’t necessarily something you should only do if you have to evict a tenant. It’s a good idea to work with a lawyer before you make your property available to rent. A good attorney can help you to draft lease agreements that document how a tenant should treat your property and the actions you’ll take during an eviction-worthy event. Having this documentation ensures the tenant can’t claim they were unaware of any of the grounds for eviction you may leverage when filing a complaint.
Beyond these circumstances, it’s a good idea to hire an experienced attorney in the following instances:
- Your tenant files for bankruptcy
- The tenant has their own lawyer
- This is the first time you’ve had to evict somebody
- You’re working within the confines of a housing or rent control program
- Your tenant is also an employee who you’re firing from your company
As for when you should hire an attorney, it’s best to do so before sending any sort of notice to your tenant. Your attorney can draft an appropriate notice, advise you on Massachusetts eviction process timelines, and ensure the notice documents don’t miss important information that you’re legally obliged to provide.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a Landlord in Massachusetts Evict a Tenant for Any Reason They Want?
It depends on the nature of the tenancy.
If you have a lease agreement in place, you typically need to have grounds for eviction. This can include late rent payments, lease violations, or illegal activity. If the tenant hasn’t done anything wrong, you can’t choose to evict them whenever you like. Rather, you have to wait until the end of the lease agreement.
These Massachusetts eviction laws change for at-will tenants. You’re allowed to evict an at-will tenant for any reason, or no reason at all, as long as you stick to the appropriate notice periods.
When Does the Massachusetts Eviction Moratorium End?
The Massachusetts eviction moratorium was put in place as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. It protected tenants from eviction in certain circumstances, such as an inability to pay rent caused by loss of work.
The United States Supreme Court chose to end the nationwide moratorium on August 26, 2021. However, some cities and towns in Massachusetts may still have moratoriums in effect. Check with your local government office to confirm that your property is no longer affected by the moratorium.
How Long Does It Take to Evict a Tenant at Will in Massachusetts?
You must provide 30 days written notice to evict a tenant at will in Massachusetts, assuming the tenant isn’t being evicted due to the grounds for eviction mentioned previously. As such, it typically takes at least 30 days to evict an at-will tenant. This may fall to seven days in cases where the tenant has broken the law inside your property.
Can I Force a Tenant to Move Out in Massachusetts?
Generally, you can’t force a tenant to move out of your property if you have a lease agreement in place. That agreement is a legal contract that both you and your tenant must follow. If the tenant hasn’t provided grounds for eviction, you have no legal reason to ask them to leave.
Attempting to force a tenant out without the property notice means you break the contract between you and the tenant. You may face legal repercussions for this, which is why it’s best to seek legal advice if you wish to remove a tenant from your property.
Understand Massachusetts Eviction Laws
Landlords have the opportunity to use their properties to generate a regular source of passive income. But attempting to do that without understanding the various Massachusetts eviction laws could result in you running into problems when you need to remove a tenant from one of your properties.
Procedures are key when evicting a tenant in Massachusetts.
Failing to follow the correct process gives the tenant a defense they can use to extend their stay in your property. In some cases, these defenses can be strong enough to invalidate the complaint you lodge against the tenant. By working with an experienced lawyer at all stages of the eviction process, you ensure correct procedures are followed and that you have a viable case for eviction. Furthermore, working with a lawyer when drafting lease agreements ensures that tenants understand their rights and the potential responses if they break the agreement.
My name is Nick Caucci and I help run the Rentroom blog. Over the years, I have seen and helped many different property managers and owner-operators streamline their daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly workflows.