How to Fight an Eviction in Massachusetts: A Tenants’ Guide to Staying in Their Homes

| Jun 6, 2017 | Landlord Tenant Law |

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When a landlord begins the eviction process, they are proceeding under Massachusetts’s summary process rules. These are the rules that a landlord must proceed under or they risk violating the tenant’s rights. While a summary process is the fastest legal proceeding in Massachusetts, it can still be quite slow and costly for the landlord.

Given how slow the process can be, the tenant has leverage to negotiate with the landlord. The key to using that leverage is being responsive.

You May Be Able to Counter Sue Your Landlord.

As a tenant, you have rights. You can use the violation of those rights as means to fight your eviction.

Your landlord may have violated your rights by:

1. Mishandling of your security deposit;

2. Mishandling of your last month’s rent;

3. Not paying you interest on your security deposit or last month’s rent

4. No hot water;

5. No heat;

6. Other bad conditions in your apartment; and

7. Retaliation based on you previously asserting your rights.

Your landlord’s violation of your rights may allow you to counter sue. If you win at trial, you will have a right to stay in your apartment AND your landlord may owe you money.

There are three grounds on which a landlord may evict on: non-payment of rent, a no-fault eviction, or an eviction with cause.

Non-Payment of Rent: A 14-Day Notice to Quit Is Required. If a landlord chooses to evict you for non-payment of rent, they MUST provide you with a 14-day notice to quit.

Often, landlords do not properly write the 14-day notice to quit.

If the notice to quit is incorrect, the tenants can legally defend themselves against the summary process. Often, an incorrect notice to quit will force the landlord to start the process over, costing the landlord time and money and therefore, giving tenants leverage.The notice to quit must be served correctly. Often, a landlord will leave a note on a tenant’s door stating that the tenant has 14 days to leave the apartment. 1) This note is likely not drafted correctly, and 2) the notice was likely not served correctly.

In the alternative, a landlord may send a notice to quit via certified mail. If a tenant chooses not to sign for the mail, the tenant was not properly served and the eviction process must start over. If your landlord is trying to evict you for non-payment of rent, they may be deemed to be in violation of the fair debt collection act if they don’t provide you with the proper notice to dispute the debt owed. This violation gives tenants further leverage to fight the landlord’s eviction effort.

No-Fault: A 30-Day Notice to Quit Is Required. Often, a landlord decides to end a tenancy due for reasons outside of non-payment of rent. Maybe the place is being sold and the buyer wants to take ownership of the house with no tenants.

Whatever the reason, a landlord MUST serve a tenant with a 30-day notice to quit. A landlord may not begin the summary process until 30 days after the notice to quit is served and 30 days after rent is due.

Here is an example of how a 30-day notice to quit works. If the 30-day notice to quit is served on May 15 and rent is due on the first of the month, a landlord CANNOT begin the summary process until July 1, a full 30 days after June 1. Often, landlords don’t understand this and begin the summary process too soon. If your landlord does so, you have a legal defense against the landlord’s eviction effort.  

For Cause Evictions: In some cases, a landlord chooses to evict a tenant for bad or illegal behavior. Specifically, a landlord may evict a tenant due to their violations of the lease if they make a lot of noise, use drugs, have unapproved roommates, or keep an unclean house. The landlord will need proof of this behavior and the police generally don’t like to get involved.  

Your landlord can file the eviction in a District or Housing Court. The court will issue a summary process summons and complaint form. The form MUST be served by a constable or sheriff on the tenant in no less than 7 days prior to the entry date.

After your landlord has served you with the summons, you have 7 days to answer.

The Law Office of Renee Lazar employs the tools of discovery to 1) find out more information about the case, and 2) to give our clients more time to weigh their legal options.

When we file our discovery request, the trial date is automatically pushed back two weeks. By delaying the trial date, we give tenants leverage against their landlords.

Resolving the Eviction Matter

Once litigation has commenced, the tenant has two options: 1) try to defeat the landlord’s claims on the merits, or 2) reach a compromise.

The Law Offices of Renee Lazar will work with you to try and find the best solution for your situation. Contact us today either through email or telephone 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation. When facing eviction in Massachusetts, the best decision a tenant can make is to retain an attorney who can ensure the tenant’s rights are protected. We look forward to working on your legal issue.

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