Get Out! A Landlord’s Guide to Massachusetts Evictions

by Rich Vetstein on October 7, 2011 · 30 comments

in Landlord Tenant Law, Massachusetts Real Estate Law, Real Estate Litigation

Massachusetts Summary Process Evictions: An Unlevel Playing Field For Landlords

How do you evict a tenant in Massachusetts? In Massachusetts, evictions are called “summary process.” According to the rules governing eviction cases, summary process is supposed to be “just, speedy, and inexpensive.” In practice, however, summary process can be anything but that. In fact, as I always inform my landlord clients, Massachusetts is one of the most tenant friendly states in the country, and an eviction can be costly, frustrating and unfair to landlords. In some cases, it can take many months to evict a tenant.

Further, Massachusetts eviction practice is loaded with traps for the unwary and procedural complexities for landlords. Landlords who represent themselves do so at their own peril and will often arrive at court with their cases dismissed for not following these requirements. It’s not a do-it-yourself situation.

Grounds For Eviction

A.      Non-payment

There are several common grounds for evicting a tenant. The most common is for non-payment of rent. In these cases, the landlord must send the tenant a statutory 14 day “notice to quit” before starting the eviction process. The 14 day notice to quit must be drafted carefully, and the best practice is to have it served by a constable or sheriff to ensure proof of delivery. The landlord must prove in court that the tenant received the notice, and service by constable or sheriff will automatically qualify as “good service.” Certified mail is not good enough as tenants can avoid pickup. Having an experienced eviction attorney draft the notice to quit can prevent have your case being “dead on arrival.”

B.      No-Fault

Another common ground for eviction is for termination of a 30 day tenancy at will, otherwise known as a no-fault eviction. Again, a 30 day notice to quit must be served on the tenant before commencing an eviction. Landlords often trip up on this type of notice with short months. In practice, judges will often give tenants in no-fault evictions a bit more leeway in terms of vacating the premises.

C.      For cause

“For cause” evictions encompass the range of bad behavior by tenants in violation of lease provisions. It could be illegal activity, drug use, excessive noise, uncleanliness, harassment of other residents, non-approved “roommates” and the like. Like all other evictions, the landlord must issue a notice to quit to the tenant stating the specifics of the offenses. “For cause” evictions are the most involved of all evictions as the landlord must offer proof by way of live testimony of the tenant’s violations of the lease. Getting police officers to show up for an eviction hearing can be challenging. For drugs and other illegal activity, Massachusetts also has a special expedited eviction process.

Read our post on the Massachusetts Notice To Quit: Don’t Be Dead On Arrival At Eviction Court

Going to Court

Starting an eviction requires the preparation and service of a Summary Process Summons and Complaint. You can choose to file your case in the local District Court or the Housing Court which is specialized to hear evictions. The Housing Court fees are less expensive, but can be busier. Some Housing Court judges have the reputation of being tenant or landlord friendly as well. Some would probably be happier retired and playing golf. It’s a tough job these days.

The summary process summons and complaint form is complicated to the layperson. It must be first served by a constable or sheriff on the tenant. Then, no less than 7 days after, it must be filed with the court by the “entry date,” which is always a Monday. The hearings are almost always on Thursday morning. Again, it’s best to have an experienced Massachusetts eviction attorney handle the legal paperwork.

Tenant Defenses and Counterclaims

Through the use of discovery requests, defenses and counterclaims, tenants in Massachusetts have ample legal means to delay and beat evictions. All tenants have a right to file “discovery” – formal requests for information and documents – from the landlord, which will automatically delay the hearing for two weeks. The tenant also may assert defenses and counterclaims against the landlord. These can range from improper notice or service, state Sanitary Code violations, no heat/hot water, failure to make repairs, retaliation, discrimination, and violations of the security deposit law—which carries triple damages and attorneys’ fees. (See my prior post on security deposits). Regardless of the merits of such claims, these defenses and counterclaims make the eviction process more complicated, time-consuming, and expensive.

Read my post on the Massachusetts State Sanitary Code — Everything A Landlord Wanted To Know But Was Afraid To Ask

Agreements for Judgment and Mediation

Eviction sessions are very busy. In some courts, there are over 100 cases stacked up on any one day and only one judge to hear them all. Accordingly, the courts will encourage parties to work out their differences on their own through mediation which is an informal sit-down between the parties to discuss ways to resolve the case. Some courts have housing specialists who can preside over the mediation session. Mediation is always non-binding so if no agreement can be reached you can proceed to a trial.

In the Housing Court, there are trained housing specialists who facilitate the mediation process. There are many advantages for landlords to mediation, and I almost always recommend giving it a try. The end result of a mediation is for the parties to sign an agreement for judgment. In a non-payment case, you can structure a payment plan and/or voluntary move-out. For a “cause” eviction, you can provide for a “last chance” agreement or move-out. The major benefit for landlords is that an agreement for judgment becomes a binding court order and the judge is supposed to enforce it upon proof of a violation. It also shows the judge that the landlord has been reasonable and accommodating. Experienced Massachusetts eviction attorneys will also make the tenants waive their rights to appeal and right to delay the case any further so as to avoid last minute requests for more time to vacate.

On the other hand, sometimes the situation is untenable and you have to go before the judge. Some judges hold a basic hearing, giving both sides the opportunity to speak. Some judges, particularly in the Housing Court, are more formal and require an actual trial with live witnesses and exhibits. I’ve had hearings last one minute and jury trials in eviction cases go on for days. But I’m always prepared to put on a case on for trial, as I always have my client present in court or on standby.


Tenants in eviction cases do have a fairly robust right of appeal which can greatly delay resolution of the case. (A good reason in and of itself to do an agreement for judgment waiving appeal rights). However, in certain cases, the landlord can ask the court to impose an appeal bond so the tenant must pay rent into court to proceed with the appeal. Most tenants do not have the financial ability to do that, so that will terminate the appeal.

If you have any questions or need assistance with a Massachusetts summary process eviction, please contact me via email at or by phone at 508-620-5352.


Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts summary process & eviction attorney who has handled over 2,000 eviction cases all across Massachusetts. For help with a landlord tenant matter, please email him at or call him at 508-620-5352.

  • Sickof IgnorantPeople

    This may be a little complicated. Someone i know bought a house, his aunt and uncle also moved into the house with him, along with a few other family members. Now A few months ago the Aunt left, after she left to make it official, he had her served with “notice to vacate” papers. She has not been back to stay at the house, and the date on the “notice to vacate” has passed. during this time she has however been back to pick up some of her belongings. Question. is what he can/can not do with the rest of her belongings. His uncle and cousin are currently still living there as they were not part of the notice. Just she was. (She befriended a man who is a career heroin addict, and he has no tolerance for drug in the house, nor having such a person anywhere near or on his property.) this is in Bristol County.

  • Jason Lewis

    If a tenant has stated he will no longer pay rent, does this constitute termination of the lease? Tenant is also in violation of multiple terms of the lease and has become hostile after these violations were brought to his attention.

  • Georgianna Groen

    Can a landlord serve a notice to quit in a text message?

  • Lisa Varela

    Hi I am a resident of Milton and I have two school age children the schools is refused to let my kid attend school due to and eviction notice I just received

  • Lisa Varela

    I have just moved in a united 6month ago and lost my kid got behind on my rent landlord gave me a eviction notice I have to children the school regular to let my kid strat school I have everything to prove my residence and my kid is out of school for five day

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  • Sally J

    My question is regarding both mine and my landlords rights. I have a great relationship with my landlord, and we both seem to be getting the short end.
    My upstairs neighbors are the definition of horrible tenants! The scream and yell at all hours, wake my children up in the middle of the night screaming, yelling, and excecive banging. They have pounded on my door threatening my family, not in the middle of the night and during the day, walked into my home causing me to keep my door and windows locked at all times. Oh, and not to mention gave me bugs! I have recently started calling the police, (something I know should have been done far sooner). The last time I called one of the tenants ended being hurt, and is currently using a walker. My landlord was informed that because she is considered “disabled” at the moment, they could end up living there free for 6 months. I do not want to do anything to do anything legally to my landlord, but rather help him, by using my tentant rights to help get them out. We LOVE where we live, (except these tenants), and resorting to moving would be a last resort!

  • Ethan

    Mr. Vetstein, this is great. I just learned a lot. I have one question. At least I think it’s one question. I am a sole leaseholder in Medford who took on housemates to help by the rent. I was misinformed by the landlord that I was not at risk financially because these housemates would not be on the lease and could be kicked out like unwanted guests the instant they stopped paying rent. Live and learn. So now I am hip-deep in the eviction process you describe, and my question is this. What happens to the back rent and bills I am owed if my deadbeat housemate moves out before our summary process court date? Do I have to cancel the court date, start over with a small claim, and then go looking for him to serve THOSE papers? Or can I proceed with the eviction court date and seek a monetary judgment there?

    Thanks again for providing this helpful page.

    • K

      In my case when they pushed my old roommate out, I was responsible for all the back rent. Even though his name was on the lease. They never went to court or even game him a notice just verbally told him to get out. He moved on his own. All bills were in my name, he hadn’t paid two months worth, and he moved out the day before next months rent was due. I felt because he didn’t give notice I shouldn’t pay his half, but the landlord felt that since we all wanted him out for his noise that I was responsible for his half the next day. Thankfully they allowed me to pay it off little by little over 3 months, but it was still very hard to do with the extra bills he didn’t pay. I was told bringing him to small claims court was not worth it because technically since my name was on everything he wasn’t technically responsible as we didn’t have a written agreement about bills.

    • Tara p71

      Little late- but I went through this with my last tenant. They moved out the weekend before our court date. They were already served and I had documentation so I went to court, they didnt(I assume because they thought that moving most of their stuff out and leaving the keys would squash the court date). I got to court- told the magistrate exactly what happened- he asked me if they were in the military- no, do they owe me back rent- yes- so they gave a judgement in my favor for all the back rent and court fees. I doubt I will ever see it, but its in their records so if they try to rent and the new landlord looks up their court appearances, they will see what they have done in the past. Karma is a bish. If I knew where the wife was working, I could always get it taken out of her paycheck as a garnishment.

  • K.L

    I have a tenant who won’t pay her rent. It’s been 2 mI tha past due, making things very tight to start the process of eviction or quit notice. How can I make this process not so expensive on my end since I’m paying her rent and my own every month? On top of it I live out of Ma. and she doesn’t answer calls or certified mail?

  • had enough

    I received a judgment for possession and back rent. 10 days later, right before i get the execution to evict in the mail my tenant pays what he owes. Does the payment stop the execution or am i able to move forward and have constable serve him. I still want him out

  • Mandiola

    Is he aggressive? If so, file a restraining order against him. He will have to leave the place. If he is not aggressive then: Pick any one of these beautiful nights. Take everything he owns out and change the locks ten minutes later. Then leave the house for a week. He may take you to court. But see…….roles have reversed now. I don’t think he will have the energy to take you to court. He will have to find a place to live first.

  • Don

    In a siuation where the tenant had a lease it expired and tenant became a TAW. Now additional people over 18 have moved in. I want to create a month to montb lease. I fiynd out I have to terminate the existing tenancy. What do I do with respect to property condition statement and security deposit that is already in place?

    • Tara p71

      Do a walk through and reup it- I was also advised by my lawyer not to do a security deposit because they can make you jump through hoops if they break anything to use it. I gave my tenants back theres, with the 1% interest as indicated by my bank so that will HOPEFULLy not be an issue. I wouldnt give them the bank account number because I didnt trust they wouldnt try to use it. I know I can pay bills online using my various accounts so I didnt want them to have that opportunity. I will NEVER rent again. Being a landlord in mass is not worth the aggrevation- I would rather get a second job- less stress!

  • MonkeyWelder

    I have an 18 year old daughter. who last night during a snow storm was evicted by her mothers husband with less than 10 minutes notice. This was from the house she has been residing for at least 4 years. My daughters mother and husband made her homeless in ten minutes. She literally had no where to go during a snow storm.( I got her somewhere) My daughter has not been allowed back to collect her personal effects. I am out of state and will have her with me in 24 hours. But my daughter will have to deal with a serious financial hit to replace just her basic items and for me to get her here and set up with a place to live here. This is not a standard landlord-tenant case but after looking at cases where a nonpaying roommate/boyfriend/girlfriend is involved. A lease or payment of rent is not the only determination of tenancy(which a lot of lawyers tend to accept as fact) And such the same rules apply to remove an adult child just as it does a non paying tenant, boyfriend, girlfriend or even a squatter. I have been told by other attorneys that this is a “family matter”. I feel my daughter has right to restitution for expenses to find housing and re-provisioning her life. plus treble damages. And to put it out there my daughter was an excellent student, doesn’t drink or do drugs and has never been in any kind of trouble other than a speeding ticket. Which she owned up to and took care of it on her own. Im looking for an attorney that has some kind of experience in this and wont blow her off.

    • Tara p71

      Seriously- this a parent/ child issue. not a landlord/tenant issue.

    • K

      This is old, but in this case she should have contacted the police to get her stuff back

  • Dave Galusi

    Greetings Attorney Vetstein, Fantastic blog! Head and shoulders above all online offerings!

    I am a friend of Mike Mooney, and a semi-new attorney practicing in Massachusetts. I had a question that I can’t find an answer to and was hoping you knew and would be goodly enough to provide some wisdom. I have a client who a month ago bought a 2 family home which came with a month-to-month tenant-at-will in one of the units. Said tenant had not paid rent rent for almost a year (likely professional tenant) and the previous owner/landlord sent a 14 Day NTQ 2 months ago. Tenant did not cure. My client (before being my client) sent a 30 day NTQ on July 5th, which I just learned of minutes ago. I told my client that there is a likelihood that the new NTQ will supersede the first one, and if that’s the case, the tenant may be entitled to the remainder of this rental period, and all of the next, such that we couldn’t serve a SPSC on her until Sept.1. I have searched the web but can only find situations where a LL tries to serve a 14 day after serving a 30 day. So, can we act on the initially served 14 day notice or are we now stuck with the 30? If not, does the tenant get the rest of July and August or can we serve her after August 5?

    An added wrinkle is that the tenant is 5 months pregnant, and the longer this gets extended, the higher the likelihood, I suspect, that she will be in the unit rent free until 2014 as I can’t see her being able to move or a judge ordering her out too quickly. Many many thanks.

    • Tara p71

      If the tenant didnt pay the rent- then the 14 day notice should have surficed to get you a court date. I know someone who had a child- but was playing the professional tenant crap- and when they got to court- she had 24 hours to get out. Its ridiculous how the laws protect the tenants and not one protects the landlord.

      • Eric D Mckinnon

        The reason the laws are the way they are is because in the past landlords abused there rights to no end this is why the laws were changed and even still i have seen landlords in housing court abuse there rights and even pay off mediators to strong arm tenants into signing agreements basically denying them there rights

        • Space__jockey

          buy a house and let someone live in it for free then.

    • jimiandsamantha

      @tara p71 is incorrect. the 14 day notice to quit was invalid as it had already been 2 months and you missed your entry date (which would have been at the latest 6 wks after the 14 day notice was served.)

      The 30 day notice was correct in that she would be entitled to all of August. my guess if 8/11/14 was your entry date which means that the original trial date was scheduled for 8/25 but if your tenant filed for discovery the earliest your trial would have been would have been on 9/8 (unless she opted for a jury trial.)

      Then she has 10 days to appeal which means at the earliest it would be 9/18 you could get an execution for judgement, but likely later.

      If she was 5 months pregnant in July, she may have had the baby by then so hopefully you found a way to serve her with a 14 day notice?

      I’m really curious as to the outcome, PLEASE PROVIDE AN UPDATE FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES!

      I wish you past-tense good luck!

  • sirernestbarker

    We recently accepted a check as security dep. for a tenancy-at-will to commence Sept 1, with the balance to be paid then. We gave the gentleman and his “roommate” a set of keys. They asked if they could move some of their belongings in early and we agreed. Then, we found that the roommate had moved in with a 3rd (unknown) fellow. Now the check-writer had a falling out with his roommate and wants his check back. Apparently the (unemployed) roommate stole his furniture and CHANGED THE LOCKS ON OUR APARTMENT DOOR! Also the fire and ambulance showed up Friday (this is in Dorchester) on what appears to me to be a drug-related 911 call by the roommate. We are going over today to try to throw these squatters out. Are we within our rights or do we have to go through the eviction process yet again (just took six months for same unit!)?

  • landladyinrecovery

    I have an at will tennant who regularly has drug deals on the property. Will a judge require proof in the form of a conviction? Or will witness testimony suffice?

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  • Pewie

    In order to avoid legal fees, a long process, and the court system to evict my tenant – can I sell my house instead?  Would he still have the same rights if there was a new owner or would he be forced to move out?

    •  He would still have same rights as if you were the owner.

    • Tara p71

      Ive had the same thought- and have a plan if court doesnt rule in my favor to get them out but Im not gonna say it here. Never know whos watching!

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