Find out how to start the eviction process

Learn about the steps you need to take to end a tenancy and how to start the eviction process.

Where to start

Ending the tenancy

The first step in the eviction process is to end the tenancy. If you want to end the tenancy because the tenant hasn’t paid rent, you need a written 14 days notice to quit, unless the lease says otherwise.

For other circumstances, the eviction process is different depending on the type of tenancy you have with your tenant. There are 2 main types of tenancies:

  • Tenancy-at-will
  • Tenancy under a lease

Tenancy at will

A tenancy-at-will can be either oral or written. The landlord or tenant can end a month-to-month tenancy-at-will by giving a written 30 days (minimum) notice to quit that must expire at the end of a rental period. Pay special attention if the notice to quit is given in February, which has less than 30 days. If the notice to quit is served too late in January, it can’t end the tenancy by March 1.

Tenancy under a lease

If there is an unexpired lease, you must read the lease to determine the acceptable grounds for ending the tenancy, the notice requirements, and the required length of time for the notice. If a lease expires, you don’t need a notice to quit because the lease itself states when the tenancy ends. However, if the tenancy becomes a tenancy-at-will after the lease expires, you must end it by giving a written notice to quit.

Notifying the tenant

Start the process by giving your tenant a Notice to Quit. The purpose of the notice to quit is to end the tenancy, so the tenant must actually receive the notice to quit for it to be effective. Unless the lease expires, a written notice to quit is required. The notice must include the specific day that the tenancy will end.

There is no designated way to give the notice to quit to the tenant. A landlord can give the notice directly to the tenant in person, but it’s recommended that a disinterested person be present for this. The tenant doesn’t have adequate notice to quit if: 

  • A constable or sheriff leaves the notice at  the tenant’s last usual address but the tenant doesn't actually receive it for some reason.
  • The landlord sends the notice by mail and the tenant doesn’t pick it up.

Sample notice to quit forms are available at the Trial Court Law Libraries. These sample forms are provided as a convenience and may not be suitable or legally sufficient in all cases. If you’re not sure how to proceed, ask for legal help.

If you’re evicting a tenant because they violated a lease term or didn't pay rent, you must state this reason in the notice to quit. Special rules apply to:

  • Mobile home parks 
  • Residential hotels and rooming houses 
  • Dormitories and community residences 
  • Residential superintendents 
  • Public housing 
  • Other government subsidized leasing arrangements 

In any case, you can’t evict a tenant for illegal reasons, such as reporting you to health inspectors for violations, or withholding rent because of bad conditions.

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

If the tenants don’t move from the rental property by the time 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 (see File an eviction case for more information). The summons and complaint sets the date for trial and must be served on the tenant by an authorized constable or sheriff. Once the service is completed, the landlord can start the summary process case by filing it with the court.

If you served a notice to quit months ago, you’re generally not required to file a new notice to quit unless you have waived your rights to evict under the earlier notice (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).

After the notice period ends

Once the notice period has ended and you have selected a court, you can then start an eviction case. See Filing an eviction case for more information on the process.

Other issues landlords may face

If my tenant has already moved out, can I still sue them for money damages?

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 this if the tenant owes rent but 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’s recommended that you talk to a lawyer 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 want to move forward without an attorney. The procedures for small claims actions are governed by the Massachusetts Uniform Small Claims Rules. In general, there is a $7,000 limit on the amount of money damages that can be recovered in a small claims case. Therefore, 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.

There was a drug raid in my tenant’s apartment. How soon can I get them out?

Under G.L. c.139 §19 , if illegal drugs were found in the tenant’s unit, the landlord can move for speedy trial in either a summary process case or a civil action. After the trial or default, the court may order that judgment enter and execution issue immediately.

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