Respond to an eviction against you

Get information on a tenant's requirements, rights, and the process for responding to an eviction (summary process).

Eviction authorization

A landlord can’t evict a tenant without filing a case in court. The landlord must file a case and obtain a summary process judgment and execution that allows them to have a constable or sheriff move you out.

Notice to quit

If you receive a notice to quit, read the notice to quit to find out why the landlord is terminating your tenancy. If the reason is because you didn’t pay rent, you may be able to stop the eviction process by paying what’s due by a specified date. The rules vary depending on whether you are a tenant-at-will or you have a lease.

  • Tenant at-will — If the tenancy is at-will and you haven’t received a notice to quit for not paying rent in the last 12 months, you have the right to “cure” the nonpayment by paying the landlord, their attorney, or the person to whom you usually pay the rent all the rent you owe within 10 days after receiving the notice to quit.
  • Lease — If you have a lease, you can “cure” the nonpayment by paying the landlord or their attorney all the rent you owe with interest and costs by the day your answer to the summary process summons and complaint is due.

If you don’t “cure” the notice to quit, the landlord’s constable or sheriff can serve you with a summary process summons and complaint. You may want to consult an attorney.

Do I have to leave the premises if I receive a notice to quit?

No. You can choose to leave the premises, but you can’t be forcibly removed without a court order. The notice to quit sent to you by the landlord is a prerequisite to beginning an eviction lawsuit. The notice to quit is not a court order. Only the court can order an eviction.

Summary process summons and complaint

If you’re served with a summary process summons and complaint, read the complaint to understand the reason for the eviction. The complaint will specify:

  • Which court the case was (or will be) entered in
  • The deadline for you to file an answer
  • The date and location of the trial

Filing your answer

You should fill out and file an answer with the court and serve a copy to the landlord or their attorney by the deadline in the complaint. An answer is the official court document that explains your side of the case. It’s a response to the allegations made against you in the landlord’s complaint, and it lets you deny in writing any part of the landlord’s case that you disagree with. You can also raise any counterclaims you may have against the landlord in your answer. There is no cost or fee to file an answer.

The best way to file your answer, and any other paperwork you may need, is to use Massachusetts Defense for Eviction (MADE): self-guided eviction help. This guided interview was created by Greater Boston Legal Services, but can be used by anyone in Massachusetts who is being evicted.  It is a completely free guided interview, and will usually take between 25 and 90 minutes for a typical tenant to use on their own. It includes videos to explain the process. This program helps you make sure that you respond to your landlord's eviction case correctly, and provides all your filled-in forms for you to print and file. It can also send you reminders of important dates by text and email.

If you choose not to use MADE, you can create the answer yourself or use the Summary Process Housing Court Answer Form.

You should come to court on the trial date, even if you didn’t file an answer. If you don’t come to court on the trial date, you may automatically lose and a default judgment may be entered against you.

Additional Resources

Asking for more time

My landlord brought a “no-fault” eviction case against me. Even if I have no defense to the eviction action, can I still ask the court for an extension of time to stay in the dwelling?

Yes. An extension of time is called a “stay of execution.” If you’re evicted for reasons that weren’t your fault, a judge may grant a stay of execution for up to 6 months in order to give you time to find a new place to live, or for other reasons. If you or someone in your home is disabled or over 60, the stay can be up to 12 months. You will usually need to continue to pay the prior rent during this period.

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