Overview: Legal help
Legal help is available as part of the Governor’s Eviction Diversion Initiative and seeks to prevent displacements and homelessness by keeping tenants and owner-occupants stable and safely housed.
FAQ: Finding legal help now
How do I find legal help?
Legal help is available statewide for both low-income tenants and owner-occupants. You can find legal help by the city where you live at https://hedfuel.azurewebsites.net/
What kind of help is available?
Referrals, legal information, and limited legal representation are available statewide. Resources are concentrated on sessions of the Housing Court, but depending upon staffing, some legal aid programs may also be able to help tenants and small landlords in District Court and tenants who are at risk of losing a housing subsidy.
How can a lawyer help?
Lawyers can help:
- Advise you about your rights in your case
- Fill out court papers
- Respond to quick court deadlines
- Prepare for court mediation
Who is eligible for legal help?
To be eligible for free help:
Your household income must be under 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (For example, for a family of four, that would be an annual income of less than $53,000.)
If you are a tenant, you must be at risk of eviction (for example, your landlord has given you a Notice to Quit).
Small landlords who rent out units in their 2- or 3 family home and have incomes that are too high for free legal help but too low to afford an attorney may qualify for low-cost legal help.
What is a COVID-related eviction?
A COVID-related eviction can include different situations such as:
- You are a tenant facing eviction because of non-payment of rent due to factors related to COVID, such as: you lost your job or business; you have been unable to find employment; or you are unable to work because you need to care for a household or family member or you are assisting children with remote learning.
- You are a tenant facing eviction because of non-payment due to COVID-related expenses, such as increased utilities, food expenses, home school supplies, and/or medical costs.
- You are a tenant facing eviction after the state declaration of COVID emergency on March 10, 2020, and the eviction puts you at risk of becoming homeless; being doubled up; losing a job; having your children’s education disrupted; or facing an increased risk of exposure to COVID.
- You are a tenant facing eviction for alleged lease violations related to COVID, including loss of access to medical or social services or domestic violence.
- You are a small landlord renting out units in your 2- or 3 family home and one or more of your tenants is not paying rent or otherwise is violating their lease due to COVID.
Tenants will not be eligible for assistance under CELHP if they face eviction for lease violations related to violent criminal activity by the tenant in or near the home or criminal activity that threatens the safety and wellbeing of other residents or staff.
Whom should I contact if I'm a small landlord and rent out units in my 2- or 3 family home?
Legal aid and assistance with accessing financial resources are available for owner-occupants of a 2 or 3- family home if they need legal help because they have a problem with their tenant(s). Click here to contact the Volunteer Lawyers Project, or call them at 617-603-1700.
What will happen when I call legal aid?
You will speak to an intake worker or a paralegal who will ask you about your circumstances. Make sure you have copies of important documents, such as the notice from your landlord telling you to vacate the unit, your lease, and proof of rent payments.
What should you do if you get a notice from the court?
Courts are open but are still doing most summary process (eviction) mediations remotely. That means people participate through the computer or phone. For information about Remote/Virtual Trial Court Services click:
What if you are already in court and you have no legal representation?
It is not too late. Ask for a lawyer. Even if your court event is remote (over the computer or phone), there may be lawyers available to join your line and provide assistance. Ask for a lawyer to find out whether you are eligible for legal help.
For more information:
Overview: Housing Mediation Program
New in November 2020
In response to the recent lifting of the housing moratorium in MA used to prevent eviction during the COVID-19 crisis, the MA Community Mediation Centers are offering free pre-court mediation between landlords and tenants for COVID-19 related lease disputes in addition to the summary process cases referred through the courts.
This new statewide Housing Mediation Program administered by the MA Office of Public Collaboration (MOPC) and the MA Department of Housing & Community Development (DHCD) is part of the Governor Baker's comprehensive Eviction Diversion Initiative to mitigate the harmful economic impacts of COVID-19 and prevent homelessness by keeping tenants stably housed and landlords from mortgage foreclosures.
To find your local Community Mediation Center across the state check out www.resolutionma.org.
Additional information on available help can be found here.
FAQ: Learn how Community Mediation can help tenants stay in their homes
What is a community mediation center?
- Community Mediation Centers are local non-profits that help people with different types of disputes, including problems between landlords and tenants. Centers provide services for free under the state-sponsored Housing Mediation Program for Covid-19 related non-payment and other eviction-related disputes and use trained volunteer mediators who have received further specialized training to be part of this program.
What is mediation?
- Mediation is a confidential, voluntary and non-judgmental process where a neutral third party (the mediator) helps people resolve differences based on what is important to them. Mediators do not provide legal advice or tell people what to do but they can refer people for additional advice or information if needed. Any agreement reached can be written down and if part of legal proceedings, can have the same force as a judgment of the court.
When can I use mediation?
- Mediation can be offered:
- before any court eviction proceeding has begun, which allows time for tenants and landlords to address issues, work out the details and the opportunity to seek any extra support they might need
- in District Court or Boston Municipal Court, after an eviction case has been filed, but before the hearing date
- In District Court or Boston Municipal Court, on or after the first court event (an initial judicial case management conference), based on a court referral
- As soon as landlords and tenants become concerned about rent arrears or other housing issues, they are encouraged to reach out to a Community Mediation Center to find out how mediation could help.
How can mediators help during the pandemic?
- Mediation can be delivered by telephone and through online videoconferencing during the pandemic.
What happens if I call a mediation center for help?
- You will speak to a case coordinator who will take your information and ask about your circumstances. The case coordinator will explain what you can expect in a mediation and speak to the other party to see if they are also willing to mediate. Because the process is voluntary, both parties need to agree to take part. If everyone is willing, then a date for your mediation will be set. You will be given guidance about using a computer or a phone to access the mediation. If it is clear that you need additional support from a housing agency (for example to access rental assistance benefits) or legal services, the case coordinator will make a referral for you, as well as continue to help you with mediation as appropriate.
How long does a mediation take?
- A single mediation session often takes 1-2 hours, though it depends on how complex the issues are. If people need additional information to be able to make an informed decision about any agreement, the mediation can be suspended, and a second session scheduled.
How can mediation help me?
- In mediation people have an opportunity to really hear each other, often for the first time, and to develop their own solutions by working together to understand what is important, what is realistic and to explore flexible options. It also allows people an opportunity to make their own decisions rather than be told by a third party what to do. Having control over the outcome makes people more likely to stick to an agreement, and mediation can help build relationships and offer skills for handling conflict in other settings. Mediation is also often quicker and more cost effective than seeking a legal remedy.
- In housing and eviction disputes, mediation can provide the following benefits:
- For tenants, mediation can help you work out if arrears can be paid off and how and allow you to stabilize your tenancy. It can also help you work out other issues related to your tenancy. If it is impossible to maintain the tenancy mediation can allow you to work out a way to leave a property in a way that works for you and the landlord.
- For landlords, mediation can help you resolve a case of rent arrears more quickly and reduce costs associated with an eviction. You can understand how rent assistance benefits can help pay off arrears, stabilize a tenancy that worked well prior to the pandemic or help ease the transition and costs of a warrant of execution.
To find your local Community Mediation Center across the state check out www.resolutionma.org.