In order to legally evict a tenant, a landlord must follow specific procedures. A landlord must:
- Properly terminate a tenancy; and
- Get permission from a court to legally take possession of your apartment.
Evictions are not easy and can be expensive if a landlord fails to follow the law and a tenant knows and enforces her rights.1 If you familiarize yourself with the steps in the eviction process and are persistent, you may be able to stay in your apartment longer or be awarded money for the landlord's violations of the law.
There are special rules that apply to eviction cases that are brought after a foreclosure. If your landlord became owner of the property because of a foreclosure you should see Chapter 18: Tenants and Foreclosure.
1. Tenants with Leases
A tenancy under a lease generally lasts until the end date stated in the lease. If you have a lease and your landlord wants to evict you before your lease has ended, she may evict you only for:
- Violating your lease, if the lease states that the landlord may evict for such a violation;
- Not paying rent; or
- Using the apartment for illegal purposes.2
If your lease says that your landlord can evict without going to court, this part of your lease is illegal and your landlord will still need to go to court to evict you in spite of what your lease says. Also, if you have a lease, a landlord cannot increase your rent during the lease period and then evict you for not paying the amount of the increase. Your rent is locked in for the entire term of your lease (unless the lease has a valid "tax escalator" clause, which allows your landlord to increase your rent in certain limited situations). For more about tax escalator clauses, see Chapter 5: Rent.
2. Tenants without Leases
If you do not have a lease and are a tenant at will, a landlord does not have to state any reason for wanting to evict you. Until individual cities or the state changes the law, no fault evictions, where a landlord is evicting a tenant who has done nothing wrong, are lawful in Massachusetts.
A landlord may also evict tenants without leases for non-payment of rent and for using the apartment for illegal purposes.3
But a landlord cannot bring a discriminatory or retaliatory eviction against a tenant. For more information see Retaliatory Evictions and Discrimination.
If you do not have a lease, a landlord must send you a proper notice to quit to terminate your tenancy.4 For more information about the notice, see Receiving Proper Notice. To figure out whether you are a tenant at will, see Chapter 4: What Kind of Tenancy Do You Have.
1 . The usual costs of an eviction include: (a) the fee to file the case in court, which is $195 in District Court and $135 in Housing Court; (b) fees for hiring a constable or deputy sheriff to serve court papers on the tenant, G.L. c. 262, §8(A); (c) attorney's fees; and (d) fees for the constable to actually evict the tenant and for movers to move and store the tenant's household furnishings, which may run $2,000 or more.
4 . Your landlord may not have to give you a notice to quit if she is claiming that you used your home for certain illegal activities. G.L. c. 139, §19. She must still bring you to court for a hearing before moving you out.