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Housing Court frequently asked questions in reference to COVID-19

FAQs RE: Temporary Modifications to Housing Court Operations based on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic and the Expiration of Chapter 65 of the Acts of 2020 (Eviction Moratorium)

Table of Contents

Housing Court FAQs

1. Is the Housing Court open for business?

A:  Yes.  All Housing Court divisions are open with limited staff to conduct court business.  Courthouses are 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, all Housing Court divisions will strive to continue conducting court business and proceedings virtually, to the extent possible.  See Supreme Judicial Court's “Fourth Updated Order Regarding Court Operations. ” See also Housing Court Standing Order 6-20.

Questions or concerns about a particular case should be directed to the clerk’s office of the appropriate Housing Court division.  The Executive Office of the Trial Court has also opened a Virtual Court Service Center, that may provide helpful resources.

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

A: 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).  However, there will continue to be an emphasis on conducting as much Housing Court business as possible by virtual means. Questions or concerns about a particular case should be directed to the Clerk’s office of the appropriate Housing Court division.

3. What is the Virtual Court Service Center?

A: While physical Court Service Centers remain closed across the state, the Executive Office of the Trial Court has instituted a daily Zoom conference to create continued access to the valuable services provided, including information regarding Answer and Discovery forms for essential eviction complaints (an eviction file due to criminal activity or lease violations that impair health and safety of other residents, health care workers, emergency personnel, persons lawfully on the subject property, or the general public); Housing Temporary Restraining Orders; Housing motions to vacate default entered since March 1, 2020; Housing motions to vacate a dismissal for failure to appear entered since March 1, 2020; and Housing motions to stay an execution.

See information on the Virtual Court Service Center.

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

A: 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. See Supreme Judicial Court's “Fourth Updated Order Regarding Court Operations

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

A: 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 Supreme Judicial Court's “Fourth Updated Order Regarding Court Operations.”

6. How may I file something in Housing Court?

A:  Although the courthouses are open to the public, the court is encouraging all parties, including self-represented litigants, to conduct their business with the court by virtual means.  Other than appearing in person, you may submit documents and communicate with the court by first-class mail or, in certain cases, by eFiling. Currently, eFiling in the Housing Court is available in the Civil, Small Claims and Summary Process case types. For more information regarding eFiling, please see eFiling in the Housing Court.  You may find the contact information for each Housing Court division online.  Each division of the Housing Court has also made available a “Virtual Counter,” which may provide helpful information.

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

A:  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. However, the moratorium expired on October 17, 2020, and the Housing Court will resume conducting all court business.  To read the law, see An Act Providing for a Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures during COVID-19 Emergency

8. How will the Housing Court be handling summary process (eviction) cases, now that the state’s eviction moratorium has expired?

A: Court users are encouraged to review Housing Court Standing Order 6-20, which outlines the modified procedures that the Housing Court will take in handling summary process (eviction) cases.  Pursuant to Housing Court Standing Order 6-20, all summary process cases will be scheduled generally based on the order in which they were filed.  The respective Clerk’s Office will send the parties a written notice of court event, informing the parties of the scheduled date, time, and method of the court event.  With the notice, the Clerk’s Office will also send an information sheet that includes a list of resources that may be available to assist the parties in resolving their case. The information sheets are also available on the Housing Court Resources page.

Note that in new and pending summary process (eviction) cases involving a claim for nonpayment of rent, landlords must, at various points throughout the case, also file an Affidavit formIn that affidavit, the landlord is required to state, under oath, whether the landlord has received a declaration from a tenant seeking protection under the CDC Order. For more information regarding new procedures in summary process (eviction) cases, see Housing Court Standing Order 6-20, and  Trial Court Emergency Administrative Order-20-13. You may also find the contact information for each Housing Court division online.

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

A:  As of October 19, 2020, following the expiration of the state’s eviction moratorium, and in accordance with Housing Court Standing Order 6-20, all pending and any newly-filed summary process (eviction) cases, including cases for non-payment of rent which may be affected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Eviction Moratorium Order (CDC Order), are able to proceed in court.

10. What is the “CDC Order”?

A:  In general, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Eviction Moratorium Order, often referred to as the “CDC Order,” may provide protection from eviction for non-payment of rent to people who meet certain requirements outlined by the CDC in its eviction moratorium Order.  The CDC Order became effective in Massachusetts as of October 18, 2020, following the expiration of the Massachusetts eviction moratorium, and it is applicable currently through December 31, 2020. It is important to note that the CDC Order does not provide any relief for a tenant’s obligation to pay rent or other housing payments.  For more information regarding the CDC Order, see the Trial Court’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the CDC order.

11. Do parties in summary process (eviction) cases need to file any additional documents because of the CDC Order?

A: Yes, pursuant to Housing Court Standing Order 6-20, in any eviction case that includes a claim for non-payment of rent, a plaintiff (e.g., the landlord) must file an Affidavit form, which is available on the Trial Court’s website. In that affidavit, the landlord is required to state, under oath, whether the landlord has received a declaration from a tenant seeking protection under the CDC Order. The Affidavit form must be filed:

  • Upon the entry (filing) of a new eviction case that includes a claim for non-payment of rent. (NoteIf the affidavit is being filed electronically, the filer must select "Affidavit Concerning CDC Order for Plaintiff” as the filing code.)
  • On or before the date of the first-tier court event in a pending eviction case that includes a claim for non-payment of rent.
  • Prior to the entry of judgment (court’s order) in an eviction case that includes a claim for non-payment of rent.
  • At the time of a request for the issuance of an execution (the court order that allows a landlord to evict a tenant).

For questions or more information, contact the respective Housing Court division. 

12. Can I sign necessary documents electronically?

A: 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.  

13. How can I serve documents on interested parties?

APlease 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.

14. Can I access my case online?

A: 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

15.  How else may I contact the court?

A:  For more information and contact resources, please see Housing Court Resources.  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.  The Executive Office of the Trial Court has also opened a Virtual Court Service Center, which may provide helpful resources.  Each division of the Housing Court has also made available a “Virtual Counter,” which may provide helpful information.

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

A:  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.  The Executive Office of the Trial Court has also opened a Virtual Court Service Center, which may provide helpful resources and may be found here.  Each division of the Housing Court has also made available a “Virtual Counter,” which may provide helpful information.

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

A: 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. More information on resources that may be available to assist the parties in resolving their case is available here. The Executive Office of the Trial Court has also opened a Virtual Court Service Center, which may provide helpful resources.

18. What if I have other procedural questions not addressed here?

A:  Court staff cannot provide legal advice. For additional questions about court procedure, 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. The Executive Office of the Trial Court has also opened a Virtual Court Service Center, which may provide helpful resources.  Each division of the Housing Court has also made available a “Virtual Counter,” which may provide helpful information.

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Last updated: October 21, 2020
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