1. What are the steps for evicting my tenant?
  2. How do I notify my tenant that I am terminating the tenancy?
  3. Do I need to state the reason I want to evict my tenant in the notice to quit and summary process summons and complaint?
  4. I served a notice to quit several months ago. Do I have to serve another notice to quit, or can I rely on the earlier notice as the basis for an eviction case?
  5. Where do I file an eviction case?
  6. Once the notice period has ended and I have selected a court, how do I start an eviction case?

1. What are the steps for evicting my tenant?

The first step in the eviction process is to terminate (end) the tenancy.

You must determine what type of landlord-tenant relationship or “tenancy” you have with your tenant. There are two main types of tenancies: a tenancy-at-will and a tenancy under a lease.

Tenancy at will. A tenancy-at-will can be either oral or written. Either the landlord or the tenant can terminate a month-to-month tenancy-at-will by giving a written thirty (30) days (minimum) notice to quit that must expire at the end of a rental period. Special attention must be paid to February, which has less than 30 days. Therefore, if the notice to quit is served too late in January, it cannot operate to terminate the tenancy as of March 1.

Tenancy under a lease. If there is an unexpired lease, you must examine the lease to determine the permissible grounds for termination, the notice requirements, and the required length of time for the notice. If a lease expires, no further notice to quit is needed because the lease itself contains a term that tells the tenant when the tenancy ends. If the tenancy converts to a tenancy-at-will after expiration of the lease, however, it must be terminated by giving a written notice to quit.  

To terminate either type of tenancy for non-payment of rent, a written fourteen (14) days notice to quit is required, unless the lease provides otherwise.


2. How do I notify my tenant that I am terminating the tenancy?

Notice to Quit. The purpose of the notice to quit is to terminate the tenancy, so the tenant must actually receive the notice to quit in order for it to be effective. If a lease expires, no further notice to quit is usually needed because the lease itself contains a term that tells the tenant when the tenancy ends. However, in other cases, a written notice to quit is required to terminate the tenancy. It must put the tenant on notice of the specific day that the tenancy will end. Unlike the summary process summons and complaint, which must be served by a constable or sheriff, there is no designated way of giving the notice to quit to the tenant. If the tenant gets the notice in any way, it is sufficient. If, however, a constable or sheriff leaves the notice at the last and usual address of the tenant but the tenant does not actually receive it for some reason, the tenant does not have notice. If the landlord sends the notice by registered or certified mail and the tenant does not pick it up, the tenant does not have notice. If the landlord gives the notice directly to the tenant in hand, this is sufficient, but it is advisable to have a disinterested person witness this event.

Where can I get notice to quit forms?
Sample notice to quit forms are available from the Trial Court Law Libraries . Please note that these sample notice to quit forms are provided as a convenience and may not be suitable/legally sufficient in all cases. If you are uncertain how to proceed, seek legal advice.

If the rent is subsidized by a government agency, you must check the lease and the program regulations to determine any special requirements for terminating the subsidized tenancy, such as stating in the notice to quit the specific reasons you want to terminate the tenancy.

If the tenants or other occupants do not move from the rental property by the time that the notice to quit expires, the landlord must take the second step by purchasing and completing a summary process summons and complaint from the court. The summons and complaint sets the date for trial and must be served on the tenant by an authorized constable or sheriff. Once service of the summons and complaint is completed, the landlord may start the summary process case by filing it with the court.  


3. Do I need to state the reason I want to evict my tenant in the notice to quit and summary process summons and complaint?

It depends on why you want to evict your tenant. If the reason for the eviction is a violation of a lease term or nonpayment of rent, this reason must be stated in the notice to quit. If the tenant is a tenant-at-will, or if the lease has expired, no reason other than expiration of the notice to quit or of the lease is required. Special rules apply to mobile home parks, residential hotels and rooming houses, dormitories and community residences, residential superintendents, public housing, and other government subsidized leasing arrangements. In any case, the reason for eviction cannot be an illegal one.


4. I served a notice to quit several months ago. Do I have to serve another notice to quit, or can I rely on the earlier notice as the basis for an eviction case?

Unless you have somehow waived your rights to evict under the earlier notice to quit, for example by accepting rent in advance without a written reservation of your rights or by signing a new rental agreement establishing a new tenancy, a new notice to quit is not generally required.


5. Where do I file an eviction case?

After the notice period has ended and the tenancy has been terminated, you can start an eviction case against the tenant. First, you need to decide where you want to file your case.

You can file your eviction case in either your local housing court (if one covers your area) or the Boston Municipal Court (BMC) or District Court that covers the city or town where the apartment is located. Eviction cases may also be filed, if appropriate, in the Superior Court. Commercial (non-residential) evictions cannot be filed in the Housing Court.  

The eviction proceedings follow the same rules in all courts, called the Uniform Summary Process Rules , but there are some different practices among court departments:

Housing Court

  • Some areas in Massachusetts do not have a Housing Court available. If the residence is in an area without a Housing Court, you must file in a BMC or District Court. See Housing Court Jurisdiction for a list of Housing Courts.
  • Housing Courts hear only housing-related cases, while BMC or District Courts hear many other types of cases.
  • Housing Courts offer Housing Specialists, employees of the court who serve as mediators for cases that are filed in the Housing Court.
  • Fees in Housing Court: $120.00 plus $15.00 surcharge = $135.00. Required summons is an additional $5.

BMC or District Court

  • There is a BMC or District Court available for every city and town. See Court Locator for locations.
  • Boston Municipal Courts or District Courts do not specialize in housing cases – they hear many other types of cases.
  • There are no Housing Specialists available in the BMC or District Court.
  • The tenant may choose to transfer the case from the BMC or District Court to Housing Court if you bring the case in BMC or District Court and there is a Housing Court that covers the city or town where the residence is located.
  • Fees in BMC or District Court:  $180.00 plus $15.00 surcharge = $195.00. Required summons is an additional $5.

6. Once the notice period has ended and I have selected a court, how do I start an eviction case?

You must fill out a form that is called the Summons and Complaint. You must purchase this form from the Clerk’s office of the court where you intend to file. It is not available online, although there is a sample pdf format of Summary Process Complaint rev 09-01-05 available online. The form costs $5.00.

After purchasing and filling out this form, you will hire a sheriff or constable to serve it on the tenant.  Once the sheriff/constable serves the summons and complaint, you must then file it with the court and pay the filing fee. For more information on this step, see Service of Process in the Boston Municipal Court or District Court .

There are four important dates to keep in mind when you begin an eviction case (service date, entry date, answer date, and trial date). It is important that you follow these dates. If you do not, your case could be dismissed.

  1. The service date is the day when you can serve the tenant with the summons and complaint. The service date can occur, at the earliest, on the day after the tenancy has been terminated.
  2. The entry date is the day when you will file the Notice to Quit, the Summons and Complaint, and the Return of Service with the court. After the tenant is served with the Summons and Complaint, the Notice to Quit, Summons and Complaint, and Return of Service are filed with the court on or before the Monday “entry date” stated in the Summons and Complaint. The entry date must be no fewer than 7 days and no more than 30 days after the service date. Entry dates must be on a Monday, unless Monday is a holiday, then it may be on that following Tuesday.
  3. The answer date is the day when the tenant’s written answer must be filed if he or she has defenses to your legal claims that he or she wants the court to consider. Answers, counterclaims, discovery requests, and pretrial motions can be served and filed anytime on or before the first Monday after the Monday “entry date” stated in the Summons and Complaint. You can contact the clerk’s office for information regarding service, entry, and answer deadlines as well as the trial date and courtroom session.
  4. The trial date is the day when your tenants and you come to court.
    • If the tenant has not requested a jury trial in their answer, you may have a bench trial in front of a judge that day and your case will be resolved.
    • The trial date is usually scheduled for ten days after the entry date (i.e. the Thursday following the answer date), however if the tenant requests discovery, the trial date will be automatically postponed two weeks. This is called the rescheduled trial date.

Again, if you miss these deadlines, the case could be dismissed.