The Eviction Process in Massachusetts: Rules for Landlords and Property Managers

An overview of Massachusetts eviction rules, forms, and procedures.

A landlord in Massachusetts can evict a tenant for a variety of reasons, but the landlord must follow specific rules and procedures; otherwise, the eviction may not be valid. The first step in any eviction is for the landlord to terminate the lease or rental agreement. In some cases, the landlord will need to give the tenant notice before going to court to file an eviction lawsuit against the tenant.

This article will explain the rules and procedures a landlord must follow when evicting a tenant in Massachusetts.

Notice for Termination With Cause

For a landlord to evict a tenant before the tenant’s lease or rental term has ended, the landlord must have legal cause. The most common reason for eviction is the tenant’s failure to pay rent, although the landlord can terminate a tenancy early for other reasons, such as the tenant's criminal activity or lease violations. When evicting a tenant because of failure to pay rent, the landlord will need to provide the tenant with notice before filing the eviction lawsuit. However, in all other cases, the landlord only needs to provide notice if the terms of the lease or rental agreement require it. (For more information, see chapter 13 of Legal Tactics, a book published by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.)

Here are the basic notice requirements for termination with cause:

  • Fourteen-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit: If a tenant fails to pay rent when it is due, the landlord can give the tenant a 14-day notice to pay or quit. The notice must inform the tenant that the tenant has 14 days to pay rent or move out of the rental unit, or the tenancy will terminate. If the tenant does not pay rent or move, then the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit with the court at the end of the 14 days (see Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 186 § 11). Eviction Notices for Nonpayment of Rent in Massachusetts has more information.
  • Unconditional Quit Notice: To evict a tenant for any reason other than failure to pay rent (such as lease violations or criminal activity), the landlord can give the tenant an unconditional quit notice. Massachusetts law does not dictate how long the notice period must be, but the landlord should always consult the lease or rental agreement. Some leases or rental agreements specify how much notice the landlord needs to give the tenant if evicting the tenant for any reason other than failure to pay rent.

Notice for Termination Without Cause

A landlord cannot terminate a tenancy early without having cause. This means if the landlord does not have cause to end a tenancy early, then the landlord must wait until the term of the tenancy expires. The landlord can then expect the tenant to move by the end of the term. In some cases, the landlord will still need to give the tenant notice.

Month-to-Month Tenancy

If a tenant has a month-to-month tenancy and the landlord wants to end the tenancy, then the landlord must give the tenant a 30-day notice to quit. The notice must inform the tenant that the tenancy will end at the end of 30 days and the tenant must move out of the rental unit by then. If the tenant does not move out of the rental unit by the end of the 30 days, then the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit against the tenant (see Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 186 § 12).Massachusetts Notice Requirements to Terminate a Month-to-Month Tenancy has more information.

Fixed-Term Lease

If a tenant has a fixed-term lease, such as for six months or one year, and the landlord wants the tenant to move, the landlord must wait until the term of the tenancy expires. When the term has ended, the landlord can expect the tenant to move. The landlord does not need to give the tenant notice unless the terms of the lease specifically require it.

Tenant Eviction Defenses

Although the landlord may have a valid reason to evict a tenant, the tenant always has the option to fight the eviction. The tenant could also have a valid legal defense, such as the landlord failing to maintain the premises of the rental unit or the landlord discriminating against the tenant. Fighting the eviction could increase the costs of the lawsuit and cause the tenant to remain in the rental unit for longer. Tenant Defenses to Evictions in Massachusetts has more information.

Removal of the Tenant

The only way a landlord can evict a tenant is by going to court and winning an eviction lawsuit. Even if the landlord is successful at court, only a law enforcement officer can perform the actual eviction. It is illegal for a landlord to attempt to remove a tenant through any other way. Illegal Eviction Procedures in Massachusetts has more information on illegal eviction practices.

If the tenant does not move out of the rental unit and a law enforcement officer has to remove the tenant as part of the eviction, then the law enforcement officer will also remove the tenant’s belongings and place them in storage. This will be done at the landlord’s expense, but the landlord can try to get reimbursement from the tenant. The storage facility will need to hold onto the property for six months before disposing of it. If the property has value, then it can be sold. The proceeds would go first to any costs owed to the storage facility or landlord, and the rest will go back to the tenant (seeMass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 239 § 4). Handling a Tenant’s Property in Massachusetts: After an Eviction has more information on what to do with a tenant’s abandoned personal property.

Rationale for the Rules

Landlords must carefully follow all the rules and procedures required by Massachusetts law when evicting a tenant; otherwise, the eviction may not be valid. Although these rules and procedures may seem burdensome to the landlord, they are there for a reason. Evictions often occur very quickly, and the end result is serious: the tenant has lost a place to live. The rules help ensure the eviction is justified and that the tenant has enough time to find a new home.

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