Massachusetts Eviction Process
October 25, 2023
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Eviction In Massachusetts
If you own and rent properties in the state of Massachusetts, you are responsible for complying with Massachusetts eviction laws. In this article, we break down each step of the legal eviction process in Massachusetts.
Eviction Process in Massachusetts
- Landlord serves a seven- to 14-day eviction notice.
- Landlord files an eviction lawsuit with the court and has the summons served on the tenant.
- Landlord and tenant attend court hearing and receive judgment.
- Tenant gets 48 hours to move out.
- Sheriff arrives to forcibly remove the tenant.
In Massachusetts, tenants can be evicted for failing to pay rent, violating the lease, or engaging in illegal activity on the premises.
1. Landlord Serves a Seven- to 14-Day Eviction Notice
If any of the above lease violations occur, the landlord must first serve a Massachusetts eviction notice and state that the tenant has the appropriate number of days to remedy or cure the violation. There are four types of eviction notices a landlord may send:
- Rent Demand Notice: Determined by lease, or 14 days to pay or quit. If rent is unpaid when due, the landlord must deliver a notice stating the amount of unpaid rent and late fees required to remedy the breach and the date on which the lease will terminate if they are not paid. The landlord may enforce the number of days’ notice outlined in the lease, but in the absence of such a lease provision, 14 days should be given (MGL 186 § 11A).
- Lease Violation Notice: 7 days to quit (Periodic tenancies only). If a week-to-week or month-to-month tenant (a “tenant at will”) violates a lease term besides nonpayment (such as violating occupancy limits), the landlord must deliver this notice stating the breach and the date on which the lease will terminate, not less than seven business days after receipt of the notice (MGL 186 § 17). The landlord does not need to give the tenant an opportunity to cure the breach. Note that Massachusetts law does not specify a required notice period for traditional tenants.
- Unconditional Notice to Quit: Notice required but not specified. If a tenant engages in illegal activity on the premises, the landlord may terminate the rental agreement without providing an opportunity to cure the violation, but they must send the tenant advanced notice before the eviction hearing. The number of days’ notice required is not specified by Massachusetts law, but it should be included in the lease. Any of the following illegal activities warrant an unconditional notice to quit as per MGL 139 § 19:
- Using the premises for prostitution, lewdness, illegal gaming, or the illegal keeping/selling of alcohol
- Selling, keeping, or manufacturing controlled substances
- Keeping an illegal weapon on the premises
- Possessing or using an explosive or incendiary device
- Using or threatening to use violence against anyone on the premises of a housing authority or federal/state assisted housing
A rent demand notice must be accompanied by a form that includes a repayment plan, information on rental assistance programs, applicable trial court rules, and any relevant federal or state legal restrictions on residential evictions. The form should also include the following statement: “THIS NOTICE TO QUIT IS NOT AN EVICTION. YOU DO NOT NEED TO IMMEDIATELY LEAVE YOUR UNIT. YOU ARE ENTITLTED TO A LEGAL PROCEEDING IN WHICH YOU CAN DEFEND AGAINST THE EVICTION. ONLY A COURT ORDER CAN FORCE YOU TO LEAVE YOUR UNIT” (MGL 186 § 31).
Massachusetts does not specify the method that should be used to deliver the notice, but the landlord must prove that the tenant received it. The best way to do so is by handing it directly to the tenant and mailing it by certified mail or hiring the sheriff/process server to deliver it.
For all evictions, the landlord may recover actual damages and reasonable attorney fees.
2. Landlord Files an Eviction Lawsuit with the Court and Has the Summons Served on the Tenant
The next step in the Massachusetts eviction process is filing a complaint in court. If the tenant has not paid their rent by the end of the notice period (or if the violation is uncurable and the notice period expires), the landlord can then file an action for summary process (the eviction lawsuit) with the court. The case could be filed in the Massachusetts Housing, District, Superior, or Boston Municipal Court, but if the landlord is seeking monetary damages less than or equal to $25,000, they should file in the Superior Court (most cases will be transferred to the Housing Court).
There are three steps to filing a summary process action:
- Complete the Summary Process Summons and Complaint form.
The Summary Process (Eviction) Summons and Complaint form is the formal complaint against the tenant combined with the summons to court (note: a sample form is available online, but landlords must purchase one for $5 from the clerk’s office in person). The landlord is responsible for determining the date of the hearing, calculated based on the date the case is entered. The entry day can be any Monday, and the hearing date will be on the second Thursday following that date, unless another day is approved by the court.
- Have a copy properly served to the tenant.
Second, a copy of the completed Summary Process Summons and Complaint must be served to the tenant by an authorized process server (e.g., the sheriff). Both the summons and complaint must be served to the tenant between seven and 13 days after the action is entered. The summons costs $5 to issue and should include:
- A copy of the lease
- The lease’s termination date
- The basis or reason for the eviction
- The name of the court and the date of the eviction hearing
- A description of the property
- A statement claiming rent, use, and occupation.
The summons should NOT include the names of any minors (MGL 239 § 2).
Service of the summons should be made as per Rule 4(d) of the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure: if not hand-delivered, it should be mailed first-class to the tenant with a return receipt. The fee to have the sheriff serve the summons is $20. Then, the landlord must get the original Summons and Complaint form back from the process server showing return of service to prove that it was properly delivered.
The tenant is not required to file a written answer prior to the hearing but may do so within one week of entry if they choose to (MA Summary Process Rule 3). A default judgment may be awarded, or the hearing may be postponed for up to a week, if either party fails to attend the hearing.
- File the original back with the court showing return of service and pay the entry fee.
Third, the landlord must file the original Summons and Complaint form with the court, showing return of service, and pay the entry fee. This fee varies by court; for example, the cost to file for eviction in the Housing Courts is $120, while the cost in the District Court is $180. A $15 surcharge is required in all courts, making the total costs to file in housing and district court $135 and $195, respectively.
The landlord may also be required to file certain other documents, such as:
- A copy of the eviction notice sent to the tenant, with proof of delivery
- A copy of a certificate of eviction if required by a rent control agency
- A copy of any applicable affidavit of compliance with local laws in jurisdictions where the law governs condominium conversion evictions
A filing must be made (or the documents must arrive by mail) by the end of the business day on Monday.
3. Landlord and Tenant Attend Court Hearing and Receive Judgment
On the day of the eviction hearing, the landlord should bring copies of the lease agreement, eviction notice with proof of service, the complaint, and any evidence of the lease violation. Both the landlord and the tenant will present their cases and any evidence to the judge, who will afterwards issue a judgment. If the judge rules in the landlord’s favor, the court will issue a writ of restitution within ten days, permitting the sheriff to execute it and remove the tenant (MGL 239 § 5(a)).
Either party may appeal the judgment of the superior, housing, or district court by filing a notice of appeal within the ten-day period after the judgment is entered. The appellant may be required to file a bond with the court. After a decision is made on the appeal, the court will notify both parties. The defendant must comply with the requirements of the decision within five days after receiving the notice (MGL 239 § 5).
4. Tenant Gets 48 Hours to Move Out
After the judgment is issued, the writ will be directed to the sheriff or other authorized officer, who will post it at the tenant’s residence notifying them that they will be forcibly removed from the premises if they do not move out within 48 hours (MGL 239 § 3).
The writ must include the following:
- The signature, full name, business address, and phone number of the sheriff
- The name of the court and the action’s docket number
- A statement that the officer will store personal property left behind at a licensed public warehouse
- The full name, address, and phone number of that warehouse
- A statement that the warehouser’s storage rates may be found by contacting the agency
- A statement that the warehouser may sell at auction any belongings that aren’t claimed after six months and retain proceeds to compensate the cost of storage
- A statement that the tenant should write to the warehouser to notify them of any change of their mailing address
The tenant may, at this time, attempt to satisfy the underlying money judgment by paying all rent due with any other court costs. If they do so and the landlord accepts it, the tenant is considered a lawful tenant again, and no execution will be issued (if not already issued). However, the landlord is not required to accept full satisfaction of the money judgment and may still cause the judgment to be enforced (MGL 239 § 3).
5. Sheriff Arrives to Forcibly Remove the Tenant
If the tenant does not move out within 48 hours, the landlord may request a writ of execution form the court. Once this is done, the sheriff will return to execute the judgment and forcibly remove the tenant with their personal possessions. The writ can only be executed on a non-holiday weekday between nine o’clock a.m. and five o’clock p.m. (MGL 239 § 3).
Under some circumstances, the tenant may request a stay of execution for around 6-12 months. The stay may be granted if the cause of the eviction was not the tenant’s fault, or if the tenant has a valid reason to postpone the eviction, such as a disability (MGL 239 § 9).
After the tenant is removed, the officer should choose a public warehouse within a reasonable distance to store any abandoned property left behind by the tenant. Massachusetts law does not specify the number of days the property should be stored. If the officer finds an abandoned animal on the premises, they will immediately notify an animal control officer, a police officer, or another authorized agent. Other rules and regulations for storing tenant property may be found in MGL 239 § 4.
Evicting a Squatter in Massachusetts
A squatter is a person who moves into a vacant or abandoned property without getting permission from the owner or paying rent. Squatters can usually be charged as criminal trespassers and be evicted like any other tenant. However, some squatters can receive the right to possession by meeting certain state-determined criteria. In Massachusetts, squatters must have lived in the property for 20 consecutive years to invoke Massachusetts squatters rights and claim right of possession (MGL 260 § 21). Their possession must also be:
- Hostile/Adverse—The squatter must not have a valid lease with the owner
- Actual—The squatter must be actively residing on the property
- Open and Notorious—The squatter is openly and obviously living there.
- Exclusive—The squatter does not share possession of the property with anyone else.
- Continuous—The squatter must hold continuous and uninterrupted possession.
While relatively rare, if a squatter meets all these criteria, they have “color of title”: the right of legal ownership without having a written deed to the property. They can file an action for adverse possession in Massachusetts to legally obtain the title to the property. However, in most cases, a squatter will not meet the criteria and can be removed. If you think a squatter is living in your vacant property in Massachusetts, you should:
- Call local law enforcement.
- Determine whether the person is a trespasser or a squatter.
- If the person is a trespasser, they can be removed immediately by a police officer.
- If the person is a squatter, you must contact the sheriff’s office.
- Send the squatter an eviction notice as per Massachusetts eviction law.
- If the squatter does not vacate the premises by the end of the notice period, file for eviction and follow the typical eviction process.
- Only the sheriff can physically remove a squatter from your property. You cannot do so, and neither can a police officer.
Massachusetts Eviction Cost Estimates
How much do evictions cost in Massachusetts? This chart shows estimates of the approximate cost of the Massachusetts eviction process, according to civil procedure in the state and iPropertyManagement. A highly accurate estimate of an eviction is impossible to provide, as cases and circumstances vary so widely. Remember to factor in other losses due to an eviction as well, such as lost rent, time, and stress.
|Action||Approximate Cost (Housing Court)||Approximate Cost (District Court)|
|Summons and Complaint form||$5||$5|
|Issuance of required summons||$5||$5|
|Service of court summons by sheriff||$20||$20|
|Enforcement of writ of execution||Varies by county||Varies by county|
|Average locksmith fees||$160||$160|
|Storage fees for abandoned property||Varies||Varies|
|Tenant turnover costs||Varies||Varies|
Massachusetts Eviction Time Estimates
The chart below shows an estimate of the duration of each part of the Massachusetts eviction process timeline. Keep in mind that the length of eviction cases varies widely depending on the complexity of the eviction, the court’s current caseload, and whether or not the tenant contests or appeals the lawsuit.
|Eviction notice period||Up to 14 days|
|Entry date||Any Monday|
|Service of summons to tenant||7-13 days after entry date|
|Eviction hearing||10 days or second Thursday after the entry date|
|Issuance of writ of restitution / Appeal period||10 days|
|Time to quit after writ of restitution is posted||48 hours|
|Possible stay of execution||6-12 months|
- Summary Process (Eviction) Summons and Complaint (Housing Court)
- Affidavit of Compliance with G.L. c. 186, s. 31 (Housing Court)
- Summary Process Answer (Housing Court)
- Agreement for Judgment (Housing Court)
- Motion for Issuance of Execution (Housing Court)
- Notice of Transfer to Housing Court (District/Boston Municipal Court)
- Summary Process (Eviction) Summons and Complaint (Boston Municipal Court)
- How to File an Eviction Case in Massachusetts – The official state government’s site with an explanation of the steps to file a summary possession case.
- Massachusetts Court Forms for Eviction – This page includes various eviction forms used in the Massachusetts courts, including summary process complaints, affidavits of compliance, housing court agreements, motions for issuance of execution or vacate default judgment, and others.
- MA Uniform Summary Process Rules – This page includes the specific rules of civil procedure and court policies for summary process in Massachusetts.
- Massachusetts Courts Uniform Schedule of Fees – This site lists the court costs to file various actions in Massachusetts courts.
The eviction process in any state can be long and complex, so hiring an eviction attorney is advised in most cases. It’s also important to note that municipalities and local governments often have stricter laws and requirements for landlords, so be sure to check local statutes as well as state ones. However, by reviewing the legal procedures and Massachusetts laws on eviction, you can feel more confident pursuing an eviction in this state.
Innago does not provide legal advice. The content and materials provided in this article are for general informational purposes only and may not be the most up-to-date information.