During my years as a Boston area real estate lawyer, I’ve worked with many landlords, both residential and commercial. When you have a non-paying tenant, it is a miserable situation. There is a lot to consider, but remember these five fundamental points as you address your options. Of course, it is a good idea to consult with an experienced landlord – tenant lawyer experienced in evictions.
1. No “Self-Help”
In Massachusetts, the only way to forcibly evict a non-paying tenant is to obtain a summary process judgment for possession from the District or Housing Court using a legal procedure called summary process. In Massachusetts, Landlords are not entitled to “self-help,” a Landlord cannot unilaterally change the locks or involuntarily move a non-paying tenant from an apartment or leased space. Indeed, it is a criminal violation to lock out or shut off the utilities of a non-paying tenant.
2. Follow the Notice Requirements Carefully
Before you can start an eviction case against a non-paying tenant, the Landlord has to serve at least a fourteen-day notice to quit on the Tenant. It is a mandatory precursor to filing a summary process case to evict a tenant. If you wish to evict a month-to-month tenant for reasons other than non-payment of rent, the Landlord must provide at least thirty days notice.
3. Pay and Stay
If your tenant pays all the rent arrears within ten (10) days of receiving a notice to quit, if they are a month-to-month tenant, or before the time an answer to the Landlord’s summary process coplaint is due, the Landlord cannot evict the Tenant for prior non-payment.
4. Extended Stay – Check is in the mail!
If your tenant’s non-payment of rent is due to a delay in receiving governmental benefits, the tenant can ask the court for additional time to allow the funds to arrive and at least a seven-day extension will automatically be granted.
5. Executing the Eviction
A Landlord must use a sheriff or constable to evict a tenant. Assume you won your case and received a judgment for possession. What do you do? First, wait seven days for the court to issue an execution, which is a court order authorizing a sheriff or constable to remove the tenant. Then, the Landlord needs to hire a sheriff or constable and work with them, following all the relevant rules regarding eviction, moving, and storage, to avoid any liability to your tenant for wrongful eviction or damage to personal property.