Tenants in Massachusetts can be evicted for a number of different reasons, including not paying rent or violating the lease. However, there may be a few things you can do to postpone the eviction, or perhaps even stop it altogether.
If your landlord decides to evict you, you will first receive a written notice that states the reason for the eviction and a time period to either comply with the notice, if possible, or move out of the rental unit. In Massachusetts, you could typically receive one of three types of eviction notices, depending on the reason for the eviction:
It is important to note that tenants are not automatically evicted when the time period runs out. An eviction is a legal proceeding. If you did not comply with the eviction notice by the time the notice period ends, your landlord can then go to court and file the necessary paperwork to begin the eviction lawsuit against you. Depending on how busy the courts are, it could take anywhere from a week to months before a sheriff is ordered to evict you on a certain date. You can remain living in the rental unit until the sheriff is ordered to evict you, but remember that you will be required to pay the landlord rent until the day you move out of the unit.
Also, keep in mind that there are negative consequences to being evicted, other than losing your home. An eviction will have a negative impact on your credit report, and it could affect your prospects for future housing. Some landlords will not rent to people who have been evicted from a previous location.
For more information on the eviction process in Massachusetts, see The Eviction Process in Massachusetts. Also, if you are being evicted because the rental property is being foreclosed, see the Nolo article Rights of Renters in Foreclosure.
If you are considering filing for bankruptcy to stop your eviction, you should look at Evictions and the Automatic Stay in Bankruptcy. Filing for bankruptcy may not stop an eviction, and you should carefully consider your options before doing so.
If you receive an eviction notice, you should first try talking to your landlord. You may be able to come to an agreement without going to court. An eviction will cost both of you money (as well as time), and your landlord may be willing to stop the eviction if you agree to certain terms, such as paying rent you owe or stopping behavior that violates the lease. If you can't come to an agreement that prevents you from moving out, perhaps you can agree on a certain date and time for when you will move out of the rental unit.
If you and the landlord are able to agree on anything, be sure to get the agreement in writing, signed and dated by both of you.
If you are being evicted for not paying rent, then your eviction notice will state that you have 14 days to pay rent before your landlord can file an eviction lawsuit against you. If you comply with the eviction notice by paying all the rent due within 14 days, then, in Massachusetts, the landlord must not proceed with the eviction (see Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 186 § 11).
If you are not able to comply with the eviction notice within the time period stated in the notice, then you should talk to your landlord. For example, if you can't pay the rent in full within 14 days but you could by the end of the month, you should talk to your landlord to see if you can arrange to pay later. If your landlord agrees to terms that are different from the eviction notice, then you should get the agreement in writing.
If you do not comply with the eviction notice and you and your landlord are not able to reach an agreement, then your landlord can file the eviction lawsuit with the court. You will receive a copy of the paperwork after your landlord files, and you will then be required to file an answer in response to your landlord's complaint. An answer is a document that allows you to state the reasons why you should not be evicted. This is where you need to put any defenses to the eviction, such as the landlord trying to evict you with "self-help" procedures. In Massachusetts, it is illegal for your landlord to shut off your utilities or change the locks on your doors in an effort to force you to move out of the rental unit. If your landlord has tried any of these "self-help" procedures, you may be able to use that as a defense against your eviction (see Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 186 §§ 14 and 15F). For more ideas on possible defenses against an eviction, see Tenant Defenses to Evictions in Massachusetts. You should also contact a lawyer to ensure you are using the best defenses available to you.
You must file an answer if you wish to postpone or stop the eviction. If you do not file an answer, then the judge will rule in the landlord's favor, and the eviction will proceed, most likely without a trial. For more information on the eviction process, see the online self-help center of the Massachusetts court system.
Regardless of whether you file an answer, a trial will be scheduled. You must attend this trial. At the trial, the judge will consider both sides of the argument and make a decision.
Even if you don't have any defenses against the eviction, you should still attend the trial and talk to the judge. Depending on your circumstances (such as if you have minor children living at home or health issues), the judge might not schedule the eviction right away. The judge might give you a little extra time to prepare and move out of the rental unit before ordering a sheriff to perform the eviction. Keep in mind, though, that you will still owe your landlord rent until you move out of the rental unit.