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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. To end the tenancy because the tenant hasn’t paid rent, a written 14 days notice to quit is required, unless the lease provides 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. Either the landlord or the 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. Therefore, if the notice to quit is served too late in January, it can’t end the tenancy as of March 1.

Tenancy under a lease

If there is an unexpired lease, you must read the lease to determine the acceptable grounds for termination, the notice requirements, and the required length of time for the notice. If a lease expires, no further notice to quit is needed because the lease itself contains a term that tells the tenant when the tenancy ends. However, if the tenancy converts to a tenancy-at-will after the lease expires, it must be terminated by giving a written notice to quit.

Notifying the tenant

You will 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 in order for it to be effective. Unless the lease expires, a written notice to quit is required to end the tenancy. It must give the tenant notice of the specific day that the tenancy will end.

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

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

Sample notice to quit forms are available from the Trial Court Law Libraries. These sample notice to quit 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 the reason you’re evicting a tenant is because of a violation of a lease term or for not paying rent, this reason must be stated 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, and 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 service of the summons and complaint is completed, the landlord may 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 somehow waived your rights to evict under the earlier notice to quit (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).

Other issues landlords may face

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

Yes. When eviction is not appropriate, such as when the tenant has already moved out, you can still sue for money damages. 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 taking these actions if the tenant owes rent and 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 consult an attorney 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 proceed without an attorney. The procedures for small claims action 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 trial or default, the court may order that judgment enter and execution issue immediately.

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.