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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. You should first determine where you want to file your case (see how to file below).
The first step in the eviction process is to terminate (end) the tenancy utilizing a Notice to Quit. (see When a landlord can evict a tenant for more information). After the notice period has ended, and the tenancy has been terminated, you can start an eviction case against the tenant.
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 Summons and Complaint sample form available below.
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 (BMC) or District Court.
There are four important dates to keep in mind when you begin an eviction case. It is important that you follow these dates. If you do not, your case could be dismissed:
Decide where you want to file your case:
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.
The entry date is the day when you will file with the court. It occurs after the tenant is served with the Summons and Complaint.
You must file the following 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.
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.
The trial is the day when your tenants and you come to court.
Can I sue my tenant for money damages in a summary process (eviction) case?
In a summary process case, the landlord can sue the tenant for unpaid rent, even if the tenancy was terminated for a reason other than nonpayment of rent. The summons and complaint form includes a section for the landlord to specify the rent that is owed. However, the landlord cannot include a claim for other types of damages, such as property damage or unpaid utilities, in a summary process case. The landlord can file a separate civil or small claims case to recover damages other than unpaid rent.
Can I sue my tenant for unpaid rent without filing a summary process case?
Yes. The landlord can sue the tenant for unpaid rent (or for other damages) in either a civil or a small claims case. The landlord may consider taking such actions if the tenant owes rent and has moved out before the landlord files an eviction case. The procedures for civil actions are governed by the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure. Normally, it is advisable to consult an attorney before suing a tenant for money damages in a civil action. On the other hand, the small claims procedure is designed to provide an informal process for litigants who wish to proceed without an attorney. The procedures for small claims action are governed by the Massachusetts Uniform Small Claims Rules. There is a $7,000 ceiling (exclusive of punitive damages) on the amount of money damages that can be recovered in a small claims case. Thus, if a tenant owes $9,000 in rent, a small claims judgment will be limited to $7,000 and the $2,000 portion of the unpaid rent debt will be waived.