We often hear from clients that because Boston is so tenant-friendly, it is nearly impossible to evict a bad tenant. While the Massachusetts landlord/tenant laws are certainly protective of tenants, a savvy landlord can remove a delinquent tenant in nearly the same time as other states. The key to any speedy eviction is making sure you start the eviction process as quickly as possible. Providing the right notice, serving the notice properly, and hiring the right eviction attorney in Boston are critical.
There are two primary reasons for evicting a tenant: (1) the tenant fails to pay rent; or (2) the tenant otherwise breaches the lease. Although these two scenarios tend to overlap, there are different notice requirements and procedures for each scenario.
Failure to Pay Rent
If you are evicting your tenant for failing to pay rent, you must first send a 14-day notice to quit. Although not technically required, it is best to have a constable serve the notice to quit, so that there is proof the tenant received the notice. The notice must state that rent is delinquent and that the tenant has 10 days to cure if this is the first 14-day notice in the past 12 months. The notice cannot demand late fees or processing fees (e.g. constable fees). Once the 14-day period lapses, the next step is to serve the tenant with a summons and complaint.
Breach of Lease
If you are evicting your tenant for breaching the lease, you must serve a 30-day notice to quit (7 days in some circumstances). A lease breach can be something as simple as failing to move out at the end of the tenancy, or something more complex like illegal drug use in the premises.* Like a 14-day notice, it is best to have this served by a constable. A 30-day notice to quit is slightly trickier than a 14-day notice. The 30-day notice must be given at least 30 days, or one full rental period, in advance of filing for eviction. For example, if the lease expires on August 31st, the 30-day notice must be served on the tenant by July 31st. Additionally, the 30-day notice must terminate your tenant’s tenancy on the date rent is due. Using the previous example, if the rent is due on the 1st, the notice must be sent by July 31st and must state that the tenancy ends September 1st. Once the 30-day notice period lapses, the next step is to serve the tenant with a summons and complaint.
Filing the Eviction
If you are in Boston proper, the summons and complaint can be purchased at the Boston Housing Court. Once completed, the summons and complaint must be served by a constable. There are three important dates to note on the summons and complaint: the (1) entry date; (2) answer date; and (3) hearing date. The entry date is the date by which you must file the complaint with the court and pay the court fees. The entry date must be on a Monday at least seven days, but no more than 30 days, after the date on which the tenant was served the summons and complaint. The answer date is the date by which the tenant must file his or her answer with the court. This date is the first Monday after the entry date. Finally, the hearing date (or trial date) is the date on which the case will actually be heard in court. This date is on the second Thursday after the entry date.
Going to Court
If your eviction is in Boston, your eviction hearing will likely be scheduled for 9:00 AM on your hearing date. When you arrive, you need to check in with the court clerk. Once the clerk confirms that all parties have appeared, you will be asked if you would like to mediate your case. While mediation is not mandatory, it is strongly recommended by the clerk. If you agree to mediate, you and your tenant will meet with a mediator to try to resolve any outstanding issues. If you do not agree to mediate, the case will proceed to a hearing. Whether you choose mediation or a full hearing, you will be asked to present your case. As such, it is critical that you bring as much documentation as possible (e.g. the lease, canceled checks and any correspondence). Depending on the outcome of mediation or the hearing, the Court will enter an Order. The terms of the Order will dictate how and when you may evict your tenant.
The above summary is just that: a summary. Because each case presents a different set of facts, the eviction process is almost always unpredictable. Nevertheless, if you are quick to action and follow the proper timeline, your chances of success greatly improve. If you are uncertain about anything in the eviction process, you should contact an attorney to ensure the timelines are met, the grounds for eviction are present and that all of your important documentation and witnesses have been prepared for court.
* It should be noted that G.L. c. 139, §19 provides for an expedited eviction process for certain situations such as illegal drug activity.