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How to use Discovery

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, with assistance from legal services offices in Massachusetts
Reviewed January 2022

Fill out the form in this booklet

Fill in the top of the Discovery form the same way you filled in the top of your Answer form in Booklet 3.

Read over your Answer. Think about the information you need from your landlord to prove each of the defenses and counterclaims you have checked off.

Look at the Discovery form.

  • Check off questions in the INTERROGATORIES section that help you prove your case. You can check up to 30 questions. Some boxes are already checked because every tenant needs their landlord to answer these questions in an eviction case.
  • Check off the documents you need in the DOCUMENTS REQUEST section. You can ask for as many documents as you want that will help you prove your case.

If you have questions or you need documents that are not listed, write them in the blank spaces at the end of the Discovery form.

File Discovery with your Answer

After you check the boxes for all the questions and documents you want in the Discovery Request:

  1. Fill in your name and address on the last page. Check the box next to the way you plan to get these forms to your landlord or their lawyer.
  2. You must get your Discovery form to your landlord, or their lawyer, and the court by the deadline.
    • Housing Court: File your Discovery at the same time you file your Answer.  Your Answer is due 3 business days before your “housing specialist status conference” or “first-tier event.” You will get a letter from the clerk’s office that tells you the date of the “housing specialist status conference.”
    • District Court: It is best to file your Discovery when you file your Answer. Your Answer is due 3 business days before the “case management conference.” At the case management conference, the court will set deadlines for filing Discovery requests if you did not file them with your Answer.
  3. Make 2 copies of the Discovery form. Do not include these instructions.
  • File the original Discovery and your Answer forms with the court by the Answer deadline. Call the clerk before you file and ask them what the best way is to file. You can:
    • Take it to the clerk’s office. If you hand-deliver to the court, ask the court to stamp the date on your copy so you have proof that you filed it on time.
    • Send it to the court electronically. Use the court’s online filing system or call and ask the court if you can email them. This is the best way if you can do it!
    • Mail it, but only if it is at least a week before the deadline to ensure that it arrives by the deadline. Mail is slow and not reliable. You will lose important rights if the documents are late.
  • Deliver a copy of your Discovery and Answer to your landlord’s lawyer or your landlord by the Answer deadline.
    • You can deliver it by hand or email it to your landlord's lawyer.  The lawyer's email address is at the bottom of the Summons and Complaint. If your landlord does not have a lawyer you need a written agreement from your landlord that says they agree to get your motion by email. It is important to deliver these forms by hand or email it, because the mail may be too slow.
  • Keep a copy for yourself. Keep it safe and bring it with you when you go to court.

Get Discovery responses within 10 days

Your landlord must answer your questions and give you the documents you asked for in 10 days or less from the date they got your Discovery Form.

You can ask the judge to order your landlord to answer your Discovery if your landlord:

  • Does not respond to your Discovery.
  • Does not give you all the information you asked for.

The last 3 pages of this booklet are a Motion to Compel Discovery form. Use this motion to ask the judge to postpone your hearing until the landlord answers or responds fully to your Discovery.

Prepare for court

When the landlord gives you the information you asked for in your Discovery, read their answers and look at all documents. Look for statements or information that helps you prove your case. For example, your landlord may admit that:

  • You offered to pay rent.
  • They knew about bad conditions in your apartment.
  • They did not put your security deposit in a special bank account.

Also watch for contradictions in your landlord’s story. For example,

  • Your landlord may say they did not know about the bad conditions. But they also say they were in your apartment, or they hired people to do repairs.

Use Discovery at your trial

At your trial:

  • Tell the court if your landlord admitted important facts in their responses to your Discovery.
  • You may also ask the landlord the same questions you asked in the Discovery Form. If your landlord gives a different answer, point out the difference to the judge or jury.
  • You can ask the judge to look at documents that support your side of the story, including the documents the landlord gave you in response to your Discovery Form.

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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