Judiciary Submits Proposal to Expand Housing Court to Cover Entire State
BOSTON, MA -- The Judicial Branch today submitted a proposal to the Legislature to expand the Housing Court to the entire Commonwealth by July 1, 2015.
Created in 1978 the Housing Court Department is a court of specialized jurisdiction that deals with residential housing matters, including landlord-tenant issues, and enforces the Commonwealth’s building, fire, and sanitary codes. Its growth over the ensuing decades has been patchwork in nature: about 20 percent of Massachusetts in geographic terms is not covered by a Housing Court and, since the uncovered areas are quite populous, about 30 percent of the state’s population does not have access to a Housing Court.
“We believe that all residents of the Commonwealth, regardless of where they live, should have the opportunity to have their housing case heard by a Housing Court, and benefit from its specialized expertise in residential housing matters,” said Ralph D. Gants, Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court. The expansion proposal is based on the recommendation of the Access to Justice Commission, which Justice Gants co-chairs.
Major areas of the Commonwealth do not have the much-needed services of a Housing Court. There is no Housing Court for all of Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket counties, most of Norfolk County, and much of Middlesex County. Cities with some of the highest number of rental units, such as Chelsea, Framingham, Malden, Cambridge, Medford, Somerville, Watertown, Woburn, and Waltham, do not have a Housing Court. Barnstable County has a significant number of rental units. New legislation would address this shortfall, expanding access to justice in housing matters throughout the state.
“Expanding the Housing Court is in line with the Trial Court’s mission of delivering justice with dignity and speed," said Paula M. Carey, Chief Justice of the Trial Court. "This expansion offers all parties involved in housing issues—landlords, tenants, property owners, and code enforcers—the benefits of the efficacy and expertise of Housing Court adjudication in a broad range of cases.”
“The need for greater access to Housing Court throughout the state is very strong,” said Steven D. Pierce, Chief Justice of the Housing Court. “The Housing Court has a record of cost-effective operations. Expanding this specialty court statewide can capitalize on that efficiency and expand on access to justice at the same time. Housing Courts provide swift and fair adjudication as well as access to services and programs that can help stabilize housing situations between landlords and tenants. We look forward to working with the Legislature to expand Housing Court jurisdiction to cover all of the state’s residents.”
In areas unserved by a Housing Court, housing cases, along with a broad range of legal matters, are heard in a District Court. Housing Court judges have in-depth knowledge to analyze the labyrinth of federal, state, and local housing laws. The judges also work closely with the Court’s Housing Specialists, who mediate cases, saving time and expense of litigation, and perform on-site property reviews to resolve issues concerning housing conditions.