Tag Archives: housing court

Recent Ruling Emphasizes the “Sacred” Procedure of a Jury Demand

By on September 11, 2017

     Parties to a summary process (eviction) proceeding in Massachusetts are afforded the right to a trial by jury. Article 15 of the Constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts declares that “parties have a right to a trial by jury; and this method of procedure shall be held sacred,” which applies to court rules and procedures for summary process governed by Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 8 of the Uniform Summary Process Rules, and Section 21 of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 185C.

     Recently, the Massachusetts Appeals Court overturned a ruling from the Housing Court and reemphasized the “sacred” right to a jury trial.  In Tchad Cort v. Alver Majors, a residential tenant appealed from judgment awarding possession and money damages to the landlord. The landlord filed a summary process action, to which the tenant responded with an answer, counterclaims, and a jury trial demand. At trial, the judge asked both parties if they were prepared for trial and the tenant acknowledged that he was prepared to proceed. After the landlord presented her case, the tenant provided testimony and stated that he would “like a jury.” The judge determined that trial was already underway and thus the tenant waived his right to trial. The tenant and the judge debated the tenant’s misunderstanding regarding waiver and the tenant presented his case. Thereafter, judgment entered against the tenant.

     On appeal, the Appeals Court reversed the judgment, holding that a passive waiver of a jury demand, by proceeding with trial without a jury after demanding a jury, is not sufficient to waive a prior plead jury demand. Instead, an effective waiver of a jury demand requires at least an oral stipulation waiving the demand. The Appeals Court emphasized the responsibility assigned to trial court judges to affirmatively investigate, prior to commencement of trial, whether to proceed with or without a jury, rather than starting trial and waiting for a party to object to the absence of a jury.

     Self-represented litigants in all courts are held to the same standards as attorneys. As a result, it’s crucial to understand and apply the rules of court and constitutional protections relevant to each action. More often than not, self-represented litigants are ill prepared to do so. In order to navigate litigation efficiently and effectively, engaging an experienced attorney to guide litigation prevents costly errors resulting from the failure to understand available rights and remedies. If you are involved in, or are considering filing a summary process claim, you’re well-advised to contact an experienced landlord-tenant attorney to achieve the best outcome.

Renting Apartments to Multiple College Students? Lodging House Requirements No Longer Apply

By on August 23, 2017

Massachusetts law distinguishes rented dwellings from lodging houses with regard to the requirements, rights, and remedies for the landlord or owner of the property and the tenants or lodgers. By statute, when a dwelling unit is occupied by “four or more persons not within second degree of kindred” to each other, that unit is considered “lodging,” and not a rental unit. In order to legally operate a lodging house, the owner of such units must obtain the necessary licenses, subject to fines or imprisonment for failure to comply.

The lodging house act was enacted during World War I as a reaction to concerns over immoral conduct and the spread of sexually transmitted infections. The Act divided persons who reside with their nuclear families, or are related within a second degree to the person owning the premises, from other, unrelated individuals who reside with each other. The Act applies to fraternity houses and dormitories for educational institutions, with the exception of dormitories for philanthropic institutions or nursing homes. Lodging houses have separate standards for complying with Massachusetts law, which are separate from standards set against apartment buildings and units. In addition to the licensing requirement, lodging houses must comply with the applicable building codes, they must provide kitchen facilities equal to or greater than 150 square feet in area and include a gas or electric plate or stove, a refrigerator, and hot and cold water, unless the city or town where the building is located has contrary regulations or bylaws. Lodging homes are also subject to the requirement that they not be used for any “immoral purpose” and the owner of the lodge must keep a register of all persons occupying units in the premises.

More recently, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) addressed the implications of the act in City of Worcester v. College Hill Properties, LLC, relative to private rentals to college students. In that case, the defendant property owners owned several two- and three-family properties and leased each unit to four unrelated college students under annual lease agreements. After investigating the units, the City of Worcester cited the defendants and ordered them to cease and desist from operating unlicensed lodging houses. The defendants refused to comply with the order and the City filed suit in the Housing Court. The Housing Court held that the units, as occupied, constituted “lodgings” under the law and ordered injunctions against the defendants. This ruling was upheld by the Massachusetts Appeals Court and the defendants ultimately appealed to the SJC. The SJC reviewed the historical differences between “lodgings” and apartments and analyzed the plain dictionary definitions to determine whether the defendants’ buildings were apartments or lodging. The SJC overturned the Housing Court’s ruling, finding that the City of Worcester’s interpretation of “lodging” (that the plain meaning of “lodging” and “let” suggested that the statute applies to “any place to live in any house”) was myopic and would “lead to absurd results and selective enforcement.” The SJC therefore refused to adopt the interpretation put forth by the City of Worcester and followed by the Housing Court, holding that the defendants were not operating “lodgings” within the meaning of the act.

The SJC’s interpretation in College Hill Properties has created a logical standard for distinguishing lodging houses from apartment buildings and has helped to facilitate the increased need for housing for college students in Massachusetts. If you are a property owner who rents to multiple unrelated persons or are considering renting in Massachusetts you should contact an experienced attorney to ensure compliance with all laws regulating rental apartments and lodging houses.

Purchasing At Foreclosure? Foreclosed owners may remain in possession longer under new Housing Court ruling

By on April 10, 2017

By Jennifer Lynn, Esq.,

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     The required timeline for notice of eviction to holdover former homeowners was recently altered by the Southeastern Division of the Massachusetts Housing Court in Lenders Comm. Finance LLC v. Pestilli, et al., docket no. 16H83SP03779BR.  After obtaining title, Lenders Commercial Finance brought a summary process action against the former-mortgagor who refused to vacate after receiving a 30-day notice to quit.  The bank moved for summary judgment, requesting the court to enter judgment in its favor because no facts were disputed between the parties and it brought a valid action to evict. In a departure from long-standing practice, the court ruled that Section 12 of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 186 requires service of a 90-day notice to quit in order to regain possession from the holdover former-mortgagor properly.  The court based the ruling on the fact that no agreement existed between the purchasing mortgagee and the former mortgagor to pay rent for any definite rental period. This ruling is a marked departure from the longstanding principle that a former-mortgagor, as tenant-at-sufferance, is only entitled to “reasonable” notice prior to eviction, and customary practice provided 30 days’ notice to the holdover occupant.

     The court’s ruling in Pestilli is an unpublished district court decision and stands only as persuasive authority for future summary process decisions. The ruling, however, may signal a shift in Massachusetts housing courts toward statutory interpretations that provide foreclosure occupants a longer period of notice before the mortgagee regains possession of foreclosed property. Should the standards set forth in this ruling be adopted widely, the timeline for eviction will be extended, creating additional burdens for the foreclosure purchaser and increased overall costs. In addition, the change will likely create an increase in “cash for keys” deals, under which the purchaser offers a deal to the former-mortgagor to vacate voluntarily and to forego challenging the right to possession. Evicting holdover tenants and former homeowners can be a complicated and fact-specific process. As such, you should contact an experienced attorney to ensure the proper timelines and grounds for eviction are present.