Sooner or later in any landlord’s life comes the dreaded task of evicting a bad tenant. As Massachusetts is known notoriously as a tenant-friendly state, removing a troublesome occupant is even more complicated for the owner. In the best-case scenario, it can be a lengthy and expensive process during which the landlord must be prepared to respect the procedure to the letter. Failing to do so will further worsen the situation for the aggrieved landlord.
If you are considering removing a bad tenant from your Massachusetts property, here is your guide:
What You Need to Know Before Evicting a Bad Tenant in Massachusetts
To get rid of an unpleasant tenant before the expiration of their lease, you as a landlord must have valid grounds for eviction. Nonpayment of rent is the most common reason for eviction. You may also want to expel a renter who is breaking the terms of the lease or otherwise creating a nuisance to the other occupants or destroying your property, for example. Eviction is a more involved process as you need to prove that your tenant is violating the lease, but you may be able to justify the removal for ‘just cause.’ Finally, you may wish to exercise your power as a landlord and terminate a tenancy at will, also known as a ‘no-fault eviction.’
On the other hand, it is illegal in Massachusetts to evict a tenant on the bases of race, religion, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, appearance, marital status, disability, status as a veteran, any financial aid (e.g. rent subsidy or public assistance) they may receive, etc.
Although emotions often run high for both the landlord and the tenant during an eviction, Massachusetts still provides a strict procedure that you must adhere to if you want to evict a tenant successfully. However, as frustrating and time-consuming as the eviction process is, a judge is the only person with the legal ability to order a tenant to move out. As the landlord, you should refrain from taking matters into your own hands and attempt to force your renters to abandon the premises—for example, by harassing them or their family, removing their possessions from the building, changing the keys, or cutting off utilities. Doing so could put you at risk: the tenant could sue you, get a temporary restraining order against you, or demand financial reparation of at least three months’ rent, plus any court costs and attorney’s fees.
The Bad Tenant Eviction Process in Massachusetts
The eviction procedure is also known as ‘summary process.’ Though designed to proceed quickly, the summary process can still take a long time, and additional delays are possible for unprepared rental owners.
The first step to remove a bad tenant in Massachusetts is to issue a Notice to Quit. This legal document both formally notifies the tenant that their tenancy is over and informs them of your intent to start the eviction process. While the Notice to Quit should include the reasons for the termination and the date upon which the tenant must move out, the delays in ejection vary depending on the grounds for the eviction: 14 days for rent nonpayment, 30 days for a no-fault eviction, and usually 7 days for a ‘just cause’ eviction.
Similarly, the landlord must be able to prove that the tenant did receive the notice. Although there is no rule as to how the notice should be delivered, court officials recommend service by a constable rather than by mail (even if certified). The date the notice is served is known as the ‘entry date.’
If the tenant refuses to relocate on time (i.e., fails to comply with the notice), the landlord must then file the eviction case—also known as the Summary Process Summons and Complaint—in the local district court or housing court. By law, the court process must start on a Monday between 7 and 30 days from when the summons was served, and a constable must serve it. The summons will state the date of the trial and the time by which the tenant may respond to the subpoena.
In the meantime, the tenant can also file for ‘discovery’ to request information about the case. By doing so, the renter will automatically force the court to postpone the trial by two weeks. As stipulated by law, you must respond to this request within ten days of receipt. The renter can also assert defenses and counterclaims against you, which further delays the hearing. Unless you can deny the tenant’s claims within ten days, a judge may admit these at trial.
Getting Ready for Court
In any event, going to court for eviction is a strenuous and costly process. Both landlord and tenants should be prepared to prove their case with hard evidence: documents, records, and testimonies from witnesses who can be cross-examined by the opposing counsel. Given the complexity of these cases and the necessity to stick to legal procedures for the case to be admitted, you should hire a lawyer specializing in tenant-landlord law to limit the likelihood of a judge dismissing the hearing due to a procedural error.
Also, you can withdraw your request for eviction. You will have the opportunity to reach an agreement with your tenant either directly or with the help of a mediator in the housing court. If the parties don’t reach an agreement, you can seek a trial in front of a judge. While the latter often takes more steps and procedures, you can usually be heard in front of a judge the same day. The judge rarely renders the decision on the same day and will place the case ‘under advisement’ and issue a written decision a few days or months later. Afterward, the tenant has ten days to appeal.
If the judge finds in favor of eviction for nonpayment of rent or another fault of the tenant, you can physically evict the tenant as soon as 12 days after the Court makes its decision. A constable and a mover will expel the tenant, and store any of the tenant’s remaining possessions in a publicly licensed warehouse. However, if the tenant is elderly, disabled, or not at fault, the court will allow some time for the tenant to move out–from a few months to a year.
Therefore, terminating a tenancy at will (without a lease) is not impossible, although it can take many months or years before the landlord can regain possession of the property if the tenant isn’t willing to move out. If the market is competitive or the tenant has school-aged children or low income, it is even more likely that the judge will take a lenient course. They will give the tenant a significant amount of time to find suitable housing.
Even in the best-case scenario, getting rid of a bad tenant in Massachusetts is a pricey and time-consuming process. It could be months before the tenant effectively moves out of the property.
Avoiding Litigation Hassle: How to Strike an Out-of-Court Settlement
Whenever possible, experts recommend bypassing the court and negotiating directly with the tenant to avoid a financially and emotionally painful process. The best policy is to encourage the tenant to move out voluntarily. Although counterintuitive, helping a struggling tenant move out (or through a rough patch) is usually a much cheaper way to get your property back than dive into the litigation process.
A furious tenant is also more likely to damage your property, which would leave you with additional costs. By discussing your tenant’s circumstances with them, you can come to an agreement that will satisfy you both without the hassle of going to court. As the landlord, you could offer to lower the rent temporarily if the tenant has financial difficulties or give them some time to resolve their issues with another tenant.
Offering ‘cash for key’ is a popular option among landlords attempting to get rid of bad tenants with minimum hassle. Tenants are often as eager as the landlord to avoid court and the emotional burden as well as financial implications—like a lower credit score—that may affect their chances of finding another place to live.
When It’s Easier to Let Go
Being a landlord is not for everyone. In Massachusetts, getting rid of a bad tenant can be a lengthy, costly, and emotionally taxing process. A nuisance renter can quickly transform a profitable investment property into a financial nightmare. If the tenant is particularly aggressive and may cause significant damage to your property, tackling the eviction process may be an additional burden that can go on for years. Besides the potential loss of income, you will be responsible for maintenance, property taxes, and any other damage caused by the tenant.
Selling (or buying) property with a bad tenant in place can be a challenge for the seller and buyer. However, it can be worth investing in an alternative solution provided by real estate investors specializing in handling problem tenants.
Have you ever dealt with eviction in Massachusetts? How did you remove your bad tenant?