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Guide Housing Court frequently asked questions in reference to COVID-19

Frequently asked questions about Housing Court's emergency measures in response to coronavirus (COVID-19). Last updated July 3, 2020.

Table of Contents

1. Is the Housing Court open for business?

Yes. All Housing Court divisions are open with limited staff to conduct court business, but until July 13, 2020, courthouses will be closed to the general public except where entry is required to address an emergency matter that cannot be resolved virtually (i.e., by telephone, videoconference, email, or comparable means, or through the electronic filing system) because it is not practicable or would be inconsistent with the protection of constitutional rights.

2. When will the courts “re-open” to the public?

Beginning on July 13, 2020, courthouses will gradually open to the public for in-person activity.  At that time, courts will be open to attorneys, litigants, and other members of the public attending in-person court proceedings; conducting in-person business with a clerk's office; or conducting business at other offices that are open to the public and housed in the courthouse. Members of the public entering the courthouses may be subject to screening procedures.  However, to continue to limit the number of persons entering the courthouses after the physical, and gradual, reopening of the courthouses to the general public on July 13, 2020, all Housing Court divisions will strive to continue conducting court business and proceedings virtually, to the extent possible.  See Supreme Judicial Court’s “Third Updated Order Regarding Court Operations.See also Housing Court Standing Order 5-20.

3. Will all court business resume in the physical courthouse after July 13, 2020?

Not necessarily. Despite the gradual reopening of the courthouses beginning on July 13, 2020, there will continue to be an emphasis on conducting Housing Court business and proceedings virtually, as much as possible. Questions or concerns about a particular case should be directed to the clerk’s office of the appropriate Housing Court division

4. Will all locations of the Housing Court be re-opened?

Not necessarily. In order to maintain minimum staffing in consideration of physical distancing and Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, the respective leaders of a Housing Court division may conduct in-person court operations only at the main location(s) of that division (e.g., Springfield, Worcester, Boston, Brockton, Salem, Lawrence, Fall River, and New Bedford).  Despite the gradual reopening of the courthouses beginning on July 13, 2020, there will continue to be an emphasis on conducting as much Housing Court business as possible virtually. Questions or concerns about a particular case should be directed to the clerk’s office of the appropriate Housing Court division.

5. Who is allowed to be physically present in the courtroom for an in-person proceeding?

Court personnel, attorneys, parties to the case, witnesses, and other necessary persons as determined by the presiding judge can be physically present in a courtroom for in-person proceedings.

6. Can I bring my cell phone or other personal electronic device into a courthouse?

Yes. Beginning on July 13, 2020, court users may carry their cell phones and other personal electronic devices into a courthouse.  Cell phones must be used in compliance with Trial Court Emergency Administrative Order 20-10 (Order Concerning Trial Court Policy on Possession & Use of Cameras & Personal Electronic Devices).  See also Supreme Judicial Court’s “Third Updated Order Regarding Court Operations.”

7. What constitutes an “emergency matter?”

In the Housing Court, emergency situations that will be heard by the court include applications for injunctive relief (asking the court to order someone to do or not do something, e.g., start paying utilities or stop damaging property); temporary restraining orders where a complaint involves a lockout, condemnation, no heat, no water, and/or no utilities; a stay of a levy on an execution (e.g., a court order stopping a landlord or constable from physically removing an occupant from a property); where access is required to address an emergency (e.g., burst water pipe, gas fumes, etc.); and other matters to be determined at the discretion of the Clerk-Magistrate and First Justice of each division.

8. How may I file something in Housing Court?

The court is encouraging all parties, including self-represented litigants, to conduct their business with the court by virtual means.  You may submit documents and communicate with the court by telephone, first-class mail, eMail, or, in certain cases, by eFiling. For more information regarding eFiling, please see eFiling in the Housing Court. You may find the contact information for each Housing Court division online. You may also call the Trial Court information help line, which will be staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, by calling 833-91COURT.

9. What if my matter is not listed above as an emergency?

In addition to handling emergency matters, and although courthouses are physically closed to the public until July 13, 2020, all Housing Court divisions are open to conduct certain other court business by virtual means. Beginning on July 13, 2020, courthouses will gradually open to the public for in-person activity. Despite the gradual reopening of the courthouses beginning on July 13, 2020, there will continue to be an emphasis on conducting as much Housing Court business as possible virtually. Parties will receive notice of hearing or trial dates, times, etc. from the court by mail. You may submit documents and communicate with the court by telephone, first-class mail, eMail, or, in certain cases, by eFiling. Courts may also provide a physical drop-box at the courthouse. For more information regarding eFiling, please see eFiling in the Housing Court.  If you have any questions or concerns regarding your matter, you may find the contact information for each Housing Court division online. You may also call the Trial Court information help line, which will be staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, by calling 833-91COURT.

10. What is the eviction moratorium law, and what is the Housing Court’s role?

On April 20, 2020, Governor Baker signed a law, referred to generally as the “eviction moratorium law,” that temporarily pauses the eviction process in a "non-essential eviction" action, until August 18, 2020, or 45 days after the Governor lifts the state of emergency, whichever is sooner.  To read the law that temporarily pauses the eviction process during this time, see An Act Providing for a Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures During COVID-19 EmergencyUnder the law and Housing Court Standing Order 5-20, the Housing Court will not accept and docket any filing(s), decisions, orders, and other documents in any "non-essential eviction" action, as defined by the law. Until the general pause on the eviction process ends, the Housing Court will also not schedule any court events, including trials, in a "non-essential eviction" case, as defined by the law. Under the law and Housing Court Standing Order 5-20, however, some filings in summary process (eviction) cases are permitted and shall be allowed by the court, upon filing.  For example, what is permitted includes the following: (1) motions to continue; (2) motions to vacate a default judgment entered since March 1, 2020; (3) motions to vacate a dismissal for failure to appear entered since March 1, 2020; and (4) motions to stay an execution.  See Housing Court Standing Order 5-20 for more information.

11. What is a “non-essential eviction” action?

Currently, the law temporarily pauses the eviction process in a “non-essential eviction.” In pertinent part, the law defines a “non-essential eviction” as an eviction for, or involving, non-payment of rent; foreclosure; no-cause; or cause that does not involve or include allegations of criminal activity or lease violations that may impact the health or safety of other residents, health care workers, emergency personnel, persons lawfully on the subject property or the general public. To read the law that temporarily pauses the eviction process during this time, see An Act Providing for a Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures During COVID-19 Emergency.  

12. Which eviction cases are allowed to go forward during this time?

The law allows certain eviction cases to proceed, despite the current general pause on the eviction process. The eviction cases that are allowed to proceed are those thatinvolve or include allegations of criminal activity that may impact the health or safety of other residents, health care workers, emergency personnel, persons lawfully on the subject property or the general public; or lease violations that may impact the health or safety of other residents, health care workers, emergency personnel, persons lawfully on the subject property or the general public.” To read the law that temporarily pauses the eviction process during this time, see An Act Providing for a Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures During COVID-19 Emergency. In addition, under Housing Court Standing Order 5-20, a plaintiff (e.g., a landlord) who wants to file or advance an eviction action that is permitted under the law must include a completed Affidavit for Cause

13. If my eviction action is permitted under the moratorium legislation, do I need to submit any additional documents?

Yes. Under Housing Court Standing Order 5-20, a plaintiff (e.g., a landlord) who wants to file or advance an eviction action that is permitted under the law must include, along with any other required or appropriate documents, a completed Affidavit for Cause. Consistent with Housing Court Standing Order 1-20, all attorneys shall eFile an eviction action permitted under the law. Upon the filing and the court’s acceptance of such an action, the court will send written notice of the time and method of the trial to all parties. Note that all eviction actions permitted under the current law are governed by the applicable statutes, rules, and other laws governing summary process (evictions). For additional questions, you may find the contact information for each Housing Court division online. You may also call the Trial Court information help line, which will be staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, by calling 833-91COURT.

14. Can parties resolve their disputes outside of court?

In all civil case types, as well as in eviction actions permitted under the current law, parties may seek the assistance of a housing specialist by contacting the appropriate division’s Housing Specialist Department. You may find the contact information for each Housing Court division online. Agreements and stipulations shall be reviewed by the court and shall comply with the law temporarily pausing evictions and any other applicable laws or regulations. 

15. Can I sign necessary documents electronically?

In accordance with the Supreme Judicial Court's order authorizing use of electronic signatures by attorneys and self-represented parties, until further notice, all required signatures may be accepted electronically. This measure allows attorneys and self-represented litigants to sign documents on which they would otherwise be required to provide a wet signature. The electronic signature may take the form of a scan, an electronically inserted image intended to substitute for a signature, or a "/s/ name of signatory" block.  

16. How can I serve documents on interested parties?

Please see the Supreme Judicial Court's (SJC) order regarding electronic service. Pursuant to the SJC's Order, attorneys of record must provide an email address in a pending case, and service under Mass. R. Civ. P 5(b) may be accomplished through email. Self-represented parties may not be served via email without their written consent, which may be through email.

17. Can I access my case online?

Yes. Where appropriate, docket entries will continue to be created and updated on the eAccess public portal, which is available on www.masscourts.org. However, due to limited staffing, these updates may not be immediately reflected. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your matter, please contact the respective Housing Court division

18. How long will this pandemic affect court business?

Until at least Fall 2020, but maybe longer. Beginning on July 13, 2020, courthouses will gradually open to the public for in-person activity. Despite the gradual reopening of the courthouses beginning on July 13, 2020, there will continue to be an emphasis on conducting as much Housing Court business as possible virtually. Also note that on April 20, 2020, Governor Charlie Baker signed a law that temporarily pauses the eviction process in a "non-essential eviction" action, until August 18, 2020, or 45 days after the Governor lifts the state of emergency, whichever is sooner. To read the law that temporarily pauses the eviction process during this time, see An Act Providing for a Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures During COVID-19 EmergencyIf you have any questions or concerns regarding your matter, please contact the respective Housing Court division.

19. What if I had a hearing scheduled during this time?

On April 20, 2020, Governor Charlie Baker signed a law that temporarily pauses the eviction process in a "non-essential eviction" action, until August 18, 2020, or 45 days after the Governor lifts the state of emergency, whichever is sooner. To read the law that temporarily pauses the eviction process during this time, see An Act Providing for a Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures During COVID-19 EmergencyDuring this time, the court may not, for example, schedule or hold a hearing or trial, enter judgment, and issue executions (eviction orders) in "non-essential eviction" actions

In other, non-eviction cases, courts may hear matters virtually. Beginning on July 13, 2020, courthouses will gradually open to the public for in-person activity. Despite the gradual reopening of the courthouses beginning on July 13, 2020, there will continue to be an emphasis on conducting as much Housing Court business as possible virtually. In all matters, respective clerks’ offices will send notice to the parties regarding the dates, times, manner and method of hearings or trials, etc. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your matter, please contact the respective Housing Court division.

20. How else may I contact the court?

For more information and contact resources, please see Hotlines relevant to Housing Court matters. You may also call the Trial Court information help line, which will be staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, by calling 833-91COURT.

21. Where may I find more information related to the Housing Court operations during this time?

Information regarding Housing Court operations during this time, including any relevant Standing Orders promulgated by the Chief Justice of the Housing Court, may be found at Court system response to COVID-19. You may also find the contact information for each Housing Court division online.

22. Where can I find more information if I am a tenant, landlord, or homeowner?

Tenants, landlords, and homeowners are encouraged to review the information on Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) Program and COVID-19 State of Emergency, which as of today sets forth regularly updated COVID-19-related guidance, information, and resource materials.

23. What if my tenant stops paying rent?

On April 20, 2020, Governor Charlie Baker signed a law that temporarily pauses the eviction process in a "non-essential eviction" action, until August 18, 2020, or 45 days after the Governor lifts the state of emergency, whichever is sooner. To read the law that temporarily pauses the eviction process during this time, see An Act Providing for a Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures During COVID-19 Emergency. During this time, the court may not, for example, schedule or hold a hearing or trial, enter judgment, and issue executions (eviction orders) in "non-essential eviction" actions, which includes non-payment of rent. Importantly, although there is a temporary pause on most evictions, the law does not relieve tenants and homeowners from their obligation to pay their rent or mortgage payments.

24. What if my landlord shuts off my utilities?

Such a scenario may constitute an emergency basis for a hearing. See “How to file an emergency matter” above.

25. What if my tenant is damaging the unit?

Such a scenario may constitute an emergency basis for a hearing. See “How to file an emergency matter” above.

26. Are court deadlines extended?

Yes. On April 20, 2020, Governor Charlie Baker signed a law that temporarily pauses the eviction process in a "non-essential eviction" action, until August 18, 2020, or 45 days after the Governor lifts the state of emergency, whichever is sooner. To read the law that temporarily pauses the eviction process during this time, see An Act Providing for a Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures During COVID-19 Emergency. Under that law, all deadlines or time periods for action by a party in "non-essential eviction" actions—whether such deadline or time period was established before or after April 20, 2020—are tolled (paused), including the date to answer a complaint, appeal a judgment, or levy upon an execution for possession or a money judgment. The clock begins to run when the pause on evictions is lifted (August 18, 2020, or 45 days after the Governor’s state of emergency is lifted, whichever is sooner). Under Housing Court Standing Order 5-20, all eviction actions permitted under the law are governed by the applicable statutes, rules, and other laws governing summary process (evictions).

In all other matters, time periods, court-ordered deadlines, and deadlines set forth in statutes or court rules, standing orders, or guidelines that expired on or before June 30, 2020, were generally tolled (paused) until July 1, 2020, unless otherwise specifically ordered by the court. Unless otherwise ordered by the Supreme Judicial Court, there will be no more tolling periods past July 1, 2020. For more information, see Supreme Judicial Court’s “Third Updated Order Regarding Court Operations.”

27. Is there a rent or mortgage freeze in Massachusetts?

As of April 20, 2020, there is no rent freeze in Massachusetts. However, on April 20, 2020, Governor Charlie Baker signed a law that temporarily pauses the eviction process in a “non-essential eviction” action, until August 18, 2020, or 45 days after the Governor lifts the state of emergency, whichever is sooner. To read the law that temporarily pauses the eviction process during this time, see An Act Providing for a Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures During COVID-19 Emergency. Importantly, although there is a temporary pause on most evictions, the law does not relieve tenants and homeowners from their obligation to pay their rent or mortgage payments. For renters with federal subsidizes, there may be further protections under the CARES Act. Those individuals are encouraged to consult an attorney.

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