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Housing Court frequently asked questions in reference to COVID-19

FAQs RE: Court Operations and COVID-19

Table of Contents

Housing Court FAQs

1. Is the Housing Court open for business?

A:  Yes.  All Housing Court divisions are open to conduct court business.  Courts are open to the public, subject to screening procedures and other protective measures, in accordance with the  Supreme Judicial Court's Seventh Updated Order Regarding Court Operations and the Supreme Judicial Court’s Fourth Order Regarding Public Access to State Courthouses and Court Facilities.  See also Third Amended 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, or court users may seek assistance from the division’s Virtual Front Counter.  The “Virtual Counter” may also be found on each Division’s location page.  The Executive Office of the Trial Court has also provided information on a Virtual Court Service Center, which may provide helpful resources.

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

A: Not necessarily.  The respective leaders of a Housing Court division will conduct in-person court operations at the permanent location(s) of that division (e.g., Springfield, Worcester, Boston, Brockton, Salem, Lawrence, Fall River, and New Bedford) and in satellite locations in which there is permanent, dedicated Housing Court space.  Questions or concerns about a particular case should be directed to the clerk’s office of the appropriate Housing Court division, or court users may seek assistance from the division’s Virtual Front Counter.  The “Virtual Counter” may also be found on each Division’s location page. 

3. Which court events will be held in person?

A: Unless the court determines otherwise, the following events shall proceed in person: trials, including summary process, civil, and small claims; proceedings where an assessment of credibility is necessary; motions requiring an evidentiary hearing; and contempt proceedings.  All other court events, including summary process (eviction) mediations, will continue to be held virtually.  See Third Amended 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, or court users may seek assistance from the division’s Virtual Front Counter.  The “Virtual Counter” may also be found on each Division’s location page

4. What is the Virtual Court Service Center?

A: Physical Court Service Centers may be closed across the state, but the Executive Office of the Trial Court has provided information on a Virtual Court Service Center, which may provide helpful resources.

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

A: Courts are open to the public, subject to screening procedures and other protective measures, in accordance with the Supreme Judicial Court's Seventh Updated Order Regarding Court Operations and the Supreme Judicial Court’s Fourth Order Regarding Public Access to State Courthouses and Court FacilitiesSee also Third Amended Housing Court Standing Order 6-20.

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

A: Yes. Court users may continue to carry their cell phones and other personal electronic devices into a courthouse in compliance with Trial Court Administrative Order 21-1 (Order Concerning Trial Court Policy on Possession & Use of Cell Phones & Personal Electronic Devices).  See Supreme Judicial Court's Seventh Updated Order Regarding Court Operations.

7. 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.  Please be advised that eFiling is mandatory for attorneys in Small Claims and Summary Process case types. 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.

8. How is the Housing Court handling new and existing cases?

A: Court users are encouraged to review the Housing Court’s Third Amended Standing Order 6-20, which in large part outlines the modified procedures in summary process (eviction) cases in the Housing Court.  Pursuant to the Housing Court’s Third Amended Standing Order 6-20, all summary process cases will be scheduled generally based on the order in which they were filed.  Cases will continue to be processed in accordance with a two-tier system. 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.  As set forth in the Housing Court’s Third Amended Standing Order 6-20, if a party does not appear for the first-tier event, a default or dismissal may enter against that party in certain cases.  With the notice of the first event, the Clerk’s Office will also send an informational sheet that includes a list of resources, such as Lawyer for the Day Programs, Tenancy Preservation Program, and interpreter services, that may be available to assist the parties in resolving their case. The informational sheets are available on the Housing Court Resources page.

Parties are encouraged to sign up for Interactive Text Response (ITR), a text message reminder of upcoming court events in a specific case.  Parties to a pending case in the Housing Court may sign up for ITR online.

For a general overview of summary process (eviction) cases in the Housing Court, view a brief video from the Chief Justice of the Housing Court, Timothy F. Sullivan. (Video is also available with Spanish subtitles).

9. What is the Tier-1 court event, and is it mandatory to participate in that court event?

A: Tier-1 events, frequently known in the Housing Court as “Housing Specialist Status Conferences,” are mandatory court events.  As set forth in the Housing Court’s Third Amended Standing Order 6-20, if a party does not appear for the first-tier event, a default or dismissal may enter against that party in certain cases.  Tier-1 events will continue to be conducted remotely, although the court may allow such court events to be conducted in person.  

Parties are encouraged to sign up for Interactive Text Response (ITR), a text message reminder of upcoming court events in a specific case.  Parties to a pending case in the Housing Court may sign up for ITR online.

10. What is the “CDC Order,” and is it still in effect?

A:  In general, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Eviction Moratorium Order, often referred to as the “CDC Order,” provided protection from eviction for non-payment of rent to people who met certain requirements outlined by the CDC in its eviction moratorium Order.  The CDC Order is no longer in effect as of August 26, 2021 as a result of a United States Supreme Court decision.  Certain protections in non-payment eviction cases remain in effect in Massachusetts. See Chapter 257 of the Acts of 2020, as amended by Chapter 20 of the Acts of 2021For more information regarding that law, see What is Chapter 20 of the Acts of 2021, the new eviction-related law in Massachusetts? In addition, resources about eviction are available online.

11. Do parties in summary process (eviction) cases need to file any additional documents because of any new laws arising from the COVID-19 pandemic?

A:  It depends.  On June 15, 2021, Governor Baker signed Chapter 20 of the Acts of 2021, which in pertinent part extended the provisions of Chapter 257 of the Acts of 2020.  In light of that new law, the Housing Court updated its standing order.  See the Housing Court’s Third Amended Standing Order 6-20. Until January 1, 2023, a plaintiff (e.g., the landlord) filing a summary process case for nonpayment of rent must include the court-developed “Affidavit of Compliance with Section 1(a) of St, 2020, c. 257, as Amended by St. 2021, c. 20” (it may be viewable in all web browsers except Internet Explorer). For more information regarding Chapter 257 of the Acts of 2020, as amended by Chapter 20 of the Acts of 2021, see What is Chapter 20 of the Acts of 2021, the new eviction-related law in Massachusetts?

For any questions regarding the application of the new law to your case, you should seek legal advice from an attorney.  For information on the procedural effect of the law on summary process cases in the Housing Court, see Third Amended Standing Order 6-20.

For procedural questions or more information, contact the respective Housing Court division, or seek assistance by accessing the division’s Virtual Front Counter.  The “Virtual Counter” may also be found on each Division’s location page.

For a general overview of summary process (eviction) cases in the Housing Court, view a brief video from the Chief Justice of the Housing Court, Timothy F. Sullivan. (Video is also available with Spanish subtitles).

12. What is Chapter 20 of the Acts of 2021, the new eviction-related law in Massachusetts?

A: On June 15, 2021, Governor Baker signed into law Chapter 20 of the Acts of 2021, which in pertinent part extended the provisions of Chapter 257 of the Acts of 2020.  Chapter 20 has several different provisions, and it must be read together with Chapter 257 of the Acts of 2020.  In part, however, the law continues to require landlords to provide their tenant(s) an additional form, as developed by the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (EOHED), along with any notice to quit for nonpayment of rent. The law also allows for continuances in certain situations if the requirements under the statute are met.

In addition, another part of the law prohibits the court from accepting filings in summary process (eviction) cases for nonpayment of rent without proof of delivery of the form developed by EOHED.  To ensure compliance with the law, under the Third Amended Standing Order 6-20,  plaintiffs seeking to file a summary process action for nonpayment of rent must include with their filing the court-developed “Affidavit of Compliance with Section 1(a) of St. 2020, c. 257 as amended by St. 2021, c. 20" (it may be viewable in all web browsers except Internet Explorer).

For any questions regarding the application of the new law to your case, you should seek legal advice from an attorney. For information on the procedural effect of the law on summary process cases in the Housing Court, see Third Amended Standing Order 6-20.

For procedural questions or more information, contact the respective Housing Court division, or seek assistance by accessing the division’s Virtual Front Counter.  The “Virtual Counter” may also be found on each Division’s location page.

For a general overview of summary process (eviction) cases in the Housing Court, view a brief video from the Chief Justice of the Housing Court, Timothy F. Sullivan. (Video is also available with Spanish subtitles).

13. What is short-term emergency rental assistance and how can I apply?

A: Short-term emergency rental assistance includes programs like RAFT, ERMA, ERAP, and SHERA.  Learn more about potential assistance programs online.  For more information on the programs and how to apply, please also visit the Governor's eviction diversion initiative.

14. 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.  

Find more information regarding temporary changes to service of process, signatures, depositions, oaths and affirmations during COVID-19 online.

15. How can I serve documents on interested parties?

A: Please 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.

Find more information regarding temporary changes to service of process, signatures, depositions, oaths and affirmations during COVID-19 online.

16. 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 or they can seek assistance from the Division’s Virtual Front Counter.  The “Virtual Counter” may also be found on each Division’s location page.

17. How else may I contact the court?

A: For more information and contact resources, please see Housing Court Resources.  Each division of the Housing Court has also made available a “Virtual Counter,” which may provide helpful information. The “Virtual Counter” may also be found on each Division’s location page.

The Executive Office of the Trial Court has also provided information on a Virtual Court Service Center, which may provide helpful resources.

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

A:  Tenants, landlords, and homeowners are encouraged to review Resources for Renters, Homeowners, and Landlords, which includes regularly updated COVID-19-related guidance, information, and resource materials. The Executive Office of the Trial Court has also provided information on a Virtual Court Service Center, which may provide helpful resources.

19. 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. Each division of the Housing Court has also made available a “Virtual Counter,” which may provide helpful information.  The “Virtual Counter” may also be found on each Division’s location page.

The Executive Office of the Trial Court has also provided information on a Virtual Court Service Center, which may provide helpful resources.

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Last updated: August 27, 2021
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