A landlord cannot lock you out or throw you out of your apartment without a judge's order. If you are being evicted, Massachusetts law provides you with some protections. You may wish to consult with an attorney.
Terminating and reviving your tenancy
Tenants with a lease
Your landlord may attempt to evict you if you have not been paying your rent, or if you or people under your control have caused excessive damage to your apartment or you have violated the terms of your lease. Your landlord must first send you a "Notice to Quit" your tenancy. If the landlord is terminating your tenancy for non-payment of rent, s/he must send you a "14-Day Notice to Quit" (M.G.L.c.186, §§ 11 and 12). Your lease will specify the notice requirement for other terminations; it is typically seven days.
If you are being evicted for non-payment of rent, you may avoid the eviction if you pay all rent owed, plus interest, and the landlord's cost of filing an eviction case on or before the date your Answer is due.
Tenants at will
Your landlord must send you a "14-Day Notice to Quit" if terminating your tenancy for non-payment of rent (M.G.L. c. 186, § 12). If it is being terminated for any other reason, you must be given written notice 30 days, or one full rental period in advance, whichever is longer.
If you are being evicted for non-payment of rent, you may avoid the eviction by paying the rent due within 10 days of receiving this notice, as long as this is the first notice you have received within the last 12 months. If there is no statement of your right to revive the tenancy in the Notice, you have until the date your Answer is due.
Landlords of tenants with rent subsidies must follow the eviction procedures in their rent subsidy contract and lease agreement.
Summary process and complaint
After the notice period passed, the landlord must deliver to you a "Summary Process and Complaint." This officially informs you that the landlord is taking legal action against you. It will state the date of the eviction hearing and the date on which the Answer must be filed.
Answer, judgment, appeal and execution
The Answer is a written response from you stating why you should not be evicted. It also gives you the chance to make counterclaims against your landlord, which may include health Sanitary Code violations, retaliation, harassment, security deposit violations, or improper eviction procedure. The Answer must be received by the court and the landlord the Monday before your court date. Keep a copy for yourself.
Judgment and Appeal
If you lose the case, you may appeal the decision and request a new hearing. If you appeal, you must file a Notice to Appeal within 10 days after the date the judgment is entered. An appeal bond is usually required, but may be waived if you cannot afford it; and you have a non-frivolous defense.
The execution is the judge's eviction order; the landlord cannot physically evict you without this paper. If a physical eviction is allowed, the court will give the landlord the execution 10 days after the judgment is entered. You must receive written notice of the date and time the physical eviction will take place at least 48 hours in advance. On the date set in the 48-hour notice, you must leave apartment.
The landlord may use the execution anytime within a three-month period. However, if you were evicted for non-payment of rent, and the landlord accepts payment of the entire amount won in the summary process action and your current rent, then the landlord cannot use the execution at any point and must return it to the court (M.G.L. c. 239, § 3).
Stay of execution
If the eviction was not your fault or you cannot in good faith find a place to live, you may be able to convince a judge to grant you a Stay of Execution, allowing you to stay in your apartment for up to six months. Elderly or disabled tenants can request a stay of up to one year.
If you are being evicted for non-payment of rent, you do not have any legal basis to request a stay. However, if your damages (which may arise from counterclaims filed against the landlord) are less than the amount owed to the landlord (e.g. back rent), you have seven days to avoid eviction by paying the balance, with interest, and court costs (M.G.L. c. 239, § 8A).
When the date written on the execution order arrives, you must move out. If you do not, a sheriff or constable may remove your belongings and place them in storage, unless you give permission to have them put on the street. If your belongings are put in storage, the mover should make a descriptive list of all stored items. Your former landlord has the right to sue to recover these eviction costs. The storage company will have a lien on your belongings, which can be enforced by selling your goods. The storage company, however, cannot sell your belongings without waiting six months. You are not required to pay back rent to get your furniture out of storage. But, you still owe the amount the court finds due, until you pay it for 20 years hence (M.G.L. c. 239, § 4).
Before you move out, you should consider scheduling an appointment with the landlord for an inspection of your apartment. This may help prevent future disputes with your landlord about apartment damage. Review the Statement of Condition form if you gave the landlord a security deposit. On the day you leave, be sure to clean the apartment. You also may want to take and date pictures of the condition of the apartment at the moment you move out. These photographs may help resolve security deposit disputes. If you paid the landlord a security deposit or last month's rent, leave the landlord your forwarding address so s/he can mail you any interest you are owed.
Keep good records of rent payments, complaints, contacts with your landlord, attempts at repair, correspondence, and other important events and documents relating to your tenancy. These will help you resolve disputes in court and out.