Massachusetts Tenant Evictions – Housing Court or District Court? (2014 Update)

Massachusetts Eviction Notice


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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  1. Chris says:

    Great post and thanks for the insight. I’m currently being challenged by a tenant who knows he owes me the money but is just delaying and bringing up ridiculous stuff. They have been a pain for the year they have been in the property and I just sent them a 10 day notice to quit that coincides with them leaving at the end of the month as we discussed. They can’t afford the apartment because the guys wife’s sister who lived with them moved out. So now the guy is making everything an issue and asked me to provide detailed payment history for the year because he thinks they have over paid! Unbelievable! I made the mistake of letting him and his wife pay half and the sister pay the other half separately. Big mistake as the sister and them from time to time have always been late. And once the sister moved out in December she has been habitually late. So they owe me two months as of today and are moving out in three days. I can figure the guy out whether he’s just waiting to the last moment to pay because he hasn’t the money or he’s going to challenge my warning to sue and Notice To Quit. The good thing is that they are moving out June 30th so I can then sue them in small claims court rather than housing court. Like you said, I’ve heard housing court is always bias to the tenant no matter what. I feel if I have to small claims court gives me a better chance. Any advice you can provide if I have to sue in small claims? Can I sue for my expenses as well? Remaining months on lease agreement? Any insight would be helpful.

    • It sounds like you’re out a couple months rent. Yes you can sue in small claims court for the money you are owed but quite honestly is it worth the effort? You might be better off moving on, getting the apartment rented and be done with these people. You can include court costs as part of the lawsuit but you’re just getting back the money you spent to sue this person. I’m not an attorney and I would suggest you contact an attorney that hopefully can give you a free consultation. Considering you gave a 10 day notice to quit, you must not be in Massachusetts since I’ve never heard of that type of notice so one thing to consider is that the laws of your state may differ from the laws in my state…I hope this helps but generally speaking, going to court is for me, always a last resort…

  2. amy says:

    Is there a law about evicting people during the winter months? If so, what exactly is it

    • admin says:

      No Amy, there are no laws (In Massachusetts) about evicting people during the winter. If somebody is not paying rent or has defaulted on any section of the lease they can be evicted whether its summer, winter, fall, or spring.

      • lisa saunders says:

        I need help so bad please. I own a townhouse the people won’t leave lease expired 17 this october my daughter and I had to leave a bad domestic situation now we are home owners and totally homeless how do I get a hour evict Help please

        • Hi Lisa. Have you started the eviction process with these problem tenants? The first thing to do is file the appropriate paperwork with the court. You need to file a notice to quit which starts the process. Feel free to email me if you’d like more detailed information to help you out.

  3. Bruce says:

    Thanks for the blog. Gives me a little mojo.. Going down today to do my summary process after 14 day notice to quit. Lucky Barnstable county has no housing court.
    I think I might have a prossesfesional freeloader on my hands. I do have one. I have this feeling she is not even living there still has not turned on gas. Has ordered no oil for burner and as of three weeks ago never turned on the electric in her name even though she said she did months ago. Driving down now and hoping she is moved out. Then on my way to court.
    Cross my fingure. Not is worse than working extra hard so an able bodied mooch lives for free. At least I got first and last but thats it.

    • admin says:

      How did it go Bruce? Still putting up with your problem tenant?

  4. Will says:

    I live in Ma. and I’m currently living in my mother’s old house. She passed away 2 years ago and she had one of those reverse mortgages. When she got the loan they explained to us that the family had 2 years from the time of her death to figure out what to do with the house. When she passed they started foreclosure proceedings. I put the house on the market and got an offer but when I called the bank they told me I didn’t have enough time to sell and close on the house before the foreclosure. then a year later they actually foreclosed and then sold the house to Fanny Mae. then I got a notice from a real estate broker stating my options. 1 to rent month to month . 2 sign a lease. 3 cash for keys. or if I would like to purchase the property I could do that as well. I told him I wanted to purchase and he said they would have to come out and do an appraisal. then didn’t hear anything back from him until 5 months later when I got a 72 hour notice to quit. So I called the number and explained to them I wanted to buy and they said ok let me see what we can do and I’ll get back to you. 2 weeks later another 72 hour notice to quit , again called them and got the same reply. Now I got a summons to go to court and when I called them and asked what the **** was going on I was told to put in an offer or get out. This is a 2 family house and I have been a landlord here for the last 4 years, now all of a sudden i’m a tenant and don’t know what’s going on.

    • admin says:

      Will unfortunately you have a lot of things going on here. I’m not an attorney so I’d hesitate to start to dissect each of your issues. I would have to recommend calling an attorney if you have the financial means to do so otherwise contact a local housing agency that may offer free services to help you. There are lot’s of laws that have been passed recently that prevent banks from foreclosing unnecessarily if there are other more affordable options. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help to you.

  5. Rob, I agree with you, sometimes it is just as effective to have the owner of the property pursue his own eviction. Sometimes, its better for an attorney to do it from top to bottom (e.g. when it is the landlords first time in court, when the landlord is too emotionally upset by the tenants actions). For some landlords, Limited Assistance Representation helps them get the help that they need while still staying within their budget. Limited Assistance Representation means that you have part of the work done by a lawyer and you do part of the work yourself. I also frequently advice clients to use a cash for keys strategy described in Overall, the strategy entails negotiating with the tenant. The landlord offers to pay for some of the tenants moving costs and the tenant agrees to move out ASAP.

    • lisa saunders says:

      I tried that he told us pretty much to go to hell

  6. Roland Breslin says:

    my husband needed 14 Day Notice to Quit for Nonpayment of Rent last month and found a document management site with 6 million forms . If others are interested in 14 Day Notice to Quit for Nonpayment of Rent too , here’s a

  7. Michael J Szklasz says:

    Landlords be weary about using the Housing Court services of District Court. Did you know that the tenant can remove the action to Housing Court within 24 hours of the hearing date? As an attorney, I started by filing in District if I represented the landlord and Housing if the tenant. The lawyer for one of my cases removed. I now file in Housing Court to limit my client’s expenses. Also, you can save much money if you hire an attorney BEFORE renting to ensure that most of the defenses are not valid. I have many landlord clients and have no problem defending my leases/agreements in court no matter the tenant’s defenses to the Summary Process. One important word of warning, if you mishandle the security deposit in any way, you may be liable for treble damages, attorney’s fees of the tenant, and all other costs including time off of work.

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