How do you typically handle evictions as a landlord?
Have you considered District Court as an alternative to Housing Court?
As a landlord in Massachusetts where do you prefer to go to when it comes time to evict a problem tenant? In Massachusetts you have the option of going to Housing Court or to District Court. You used to have the option to remove the front door and all of the windows when the tenant wasn’t home but that is frowned upon these days… (Do landlords still do that?)
I’ve never been to housing court
(which for me is in Fitchburg, the next town over and not the easiest place to get in and out of…) (As of January 2014, housing court has moved to the Leominster Courthouse and there is a new judge so I think I will go that route in the future.) and I’ve been a landlord for close to ten 15 years now. I’ve unfortunately been to District Court four times over the course of those fifteen or so years (not too bad though…). I hired an attorney for my first eviction and he advised me that although a bit more expensive, he preferred District Court (which fortunately is in Leominster where all my properties are located and where I live) so I went along with him. He had always had good luck there. And the minute you start to question the advice of your attorney, you might as well get a new one. Going forward I handle my own evictions, and successfully I might add (though I’m not at all advising you not to use an attorney if you’re going through the eviction process, I just prefer not to and I do somewhat enjoy facing my tenants in court).
The one thing I’ve noticed my few times in District Court for an eviction (Summary Process) is that I have seen very few evictions going on while there. For the most part you see credit card companies collection cases, small claims cases, and criminal cases. What did this tell me right from the beginning? The judge has more important issues to deal with than a tenant not paying rent and doesn’t have time for sob stories.
Meet the Professional Tenants
My first experience was very smooth, the tenant lived in a single family home I rented out and stopped paying rent after about a year. As it turns out this was a case with a “Professional Tenant”. The guy was out of work on disability had no money, and called the Board of Health on me when I asked him politely to move out. I met with the inspector, fixed everything on the list and proceeded to commence eviction. Fortunately by the time we got to court he had lost the strength to battle me and agreed to a repayment plan through wage garnishment (he was back to work by that time) and was out in 30 days.
My second experience was an eviction from the same property a couple years later and went as follows…notice to quit served, summary process…blah blah…court…Judge asked one question to the tenant…
“How soon can you be out?”
“How soon can you be out?” He didn’t care why the tenant didn’t pay rent, didn’t care that the tenant had her baby with her and was trying to look vulnerable, and didn’t care that she was in between jobs or that her boyfriend was a deadbeat with no money. I actually had to step in and offer to give her one chance to pay the back rent within 30 days and I would let her stay. Ultimately things worked out, she paid the money and is still there today.
(Update – The tenant above defaulted a second time and after going through the process again, she was evicted, moved out, trashed the house, and the last I heard she was living in a shelter. My only saving grace is that her debt is now public information and on her credit file. )
Back Rent Owed is reported to the Credit Bureaus and goes on the tenant’s credit file
My last experience was a tenant that I served a 14 day notice to and they ultimately moved out within the 14 days though the tenant still owed me a lot of money. I sued in small claims court and will actually be there this week to inform the judge that the tenant who did not show up to the hearing has defaulted on the judgement to pay and I will be sending a constable to serve a civil arrest warrant (capias) and I’ll continue my fight…
(Update Feb 2012 – The tenant was ordered to and continues to pay me $100/month until the debt is paid in full)
(Update 2014 – Still paying $100/month)
Is Housing Court on the side of the tenant or the landlord?
Now the flip side is what I hear from other landlords who go the route of Housing Court and how many times they’ve had a housing court judge that sides with tenants, delays evictions until the spring as not to put a family out on the street in the winter, forced further property inspections for code compliance…and so on…The housing court judges are there for one reason, to uphold the Massachusetts Landlord/Tenant laws which are there to protect the “little old tenant” from the “big mean landlord” for the most part (in my opinion).
I will hope to not return to court in the near future though I feel its somewhat inevitable in this business…
2014 Update – With housing court cases being moved to the courthouse in Leominster, I decided to stop in there a couple times to see the process for myself. The main thing I noticed is that mediators are there to hopefully keep the case from going before the judge. On my most recent visit, there were 30 cases on the list and only a handful actually went before a judge. The rest were mediated and an agreement made. Personally, I’m not inclined to make any deals. If I’m there to evict somebody there are no deals. Pay me or get out. I have two tenants now actively being evicted so we shall see how these cases play out in housing court.
As a landlord, where do you typically go for evictions? Housing Court or District Court? And why? What has your experience been in the past? Id like to hear about your experiences with both District and Housing Courts in Massachusetts. Also, please check out another of my posts where I discuss Landlord’s Responsibilities and Snow Removal.
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