Massachusetts Eviction Law

Posted by Christopher Berkompas in Massachusetts

Note: I am not a lawyer, and this is not intended as legal advice.

Under what circumstances may a tenant be evicted?

Like many other states, a tenant can be evicted in Massachusetts for not paying rent or failing to give back the property when the lease ends.  Also, the landlord may seek to evict the tenant for breaching a term of the lease, but only if the lease provides for it.

What is the process for evicting a tenant?

First, the landlord must give the tenant a termination notice, called a "notice to quit", at least one rental period before the time he wishes the tenant to leave.  After the period expires, he must file with the court and deliver a complaint to the tenant.

A court hearing will then be held, at which both the landlord and tenant may present evidence.  If the court rules in favor of the tenant, he will of course be allowed to remain.  If, on the other hand, the landlord wins, he will then have authority to request the local sheriff to forcibly evict the tenant if necessary.  If the tenant refuses to move, the sheriff will give him a 48 hour notice to do so, after which he may forcibly remove him.

The tenant may file a request for a temporary restraining order or a stay of execution, which will allow the tenant to remain on the premises for an extended, but limited time after the eviction.  Elderly persons above 60 may receive up to 12 months to leave, others 6 months.


How are landlords supposed to deal with tenant belongings left behind?

After an eviction process concludes in favor of the landlord, and the tenant has been evicted, he is entitled to take possession of the tenant's belongings, and to have them stored until the tenant redeems them.

Due to an eviction storage law passed in November, 2004, a landlord or the eviction storage company to which he turns over tenant belongings are required to do the following:

  • Tell the tenant who is storing their property.
  • Make an inventory of the tenant's belongings before placing them in storage.
  • File all storage fees with the Department of Public Safety, not the tenant.
  • Give the tenant the right to choose where his property will be stored until it is redeemed.
  • Give the tenant one-time access to remove items of primarily personal or sentimental value free of charge.

See here for more details:

Can the landlord shut off utilities or lock a tenant out prior to the completion of the eviction process?

A tenant may only be evicted through the court system.  Therefore, if the landlord's purpose is to harass his tenant to make him leave, he may not shut off the utilities.  However, there are valid situations in which the landlord may do so, such as when making a repair or in case of an emergency.

It is illegal to lock out a tenant without a court's approval in Massachusetts.

Are landlords required to let tenants know why they are being evicted?

Yes.  The notice to quit must include a clearly stated reason for the eviction, and since this document is delivered to both the tenant and the court, the tenant must thereby be informed.  If the notice does not contain a reason, the landlord's suit will most likely be dismissed.

Is it legal for the landlord to deduct legal fees and court costs from the security deposit?

No.  As in most states, the only lawful use of a security deposit is against back rent or to repair damage the tenant has done to the property.

Can the landlord try to collect unpaid rent for the rest of the time left in the lease?

The court may ask the tenant to pay back rent, but not necessarily if the landlord has won simply by default because the tenant did not answer the summons.  In addition, a tenant may be able to avoid eviction even after being ordered to leave, if he pays all back rent and court costs.


  1. Legal Assistance Corporation of Central Massachusetts
  2. Massachusetts Law About Eviction
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