Find out when a landlord can evict a tenant

Learn about the steps to terminate a tenancy and where to start.

Where to start

The first step in the eviction process is to terminate (end) the tenancy.

You must determine what type of landlord-tenant relationship or “tenancy” you have with your tenant. There are two 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 terminate 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. Special attention must be paid to February, which has less than 30 days. Therefore, if the notice to quit is served too late in January, it cannot operate to terminate the tenancy as of March 1.

Tenancy under a lease

If there is an unexpired lease, you must examine the lease to determine the permissible 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. If the tenancy converts to a tenancy-at-will after expiration of the lease, however, it must be terminated by giving a written notice to quit.  

To terminate either type of tenancy for non-payment of rent, a written 14 days notice to quit is required, unless the lease provides otherwise.

Notifying the tenant

Notice to Quit

The purpose of the notice to quit is to terminate the tenancy, so the tenant must actually receive the notice to quit in order for it to be effective. If a lease expires, no further notice to quit is usually needed because the lease itself contains a term that tells the tenant when the tenancy ends. However, in other cases, a written notice to quit is required to terminate the tenancy. It must put the tenant on notice of the specific day that the tenancy will end. 

There is no designated way of giving the notice to quit to the tenant. If the tenant gets the notice in any way, it is sufficient. If, however, a constable or sheriff leaves the notice at the last and usual address of the tenant but the tenant does not actually receive it for some reason, the tenant does not have notice. If the landlord sends the notice by registered or certified mail and the tenant does not pick it up, the tenant does not have notice. If the landlord gives the notice directly to the tenant in hand, this is sufficient, but it is advisable to have a disinterested person witness this event.

Where can I get notice to quit forms?

Sample notice to quit forms are available from the Trial Court Law Libraries. Please note, these sample notice to quit forms are provided as a convenience and may not be suitable/legally sufficient in all cases. If you are uncertain how to proceed, seek legal advice.

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

If the tenants or other occupants do not move from the rental property by the time that 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 how to File an eviction case). 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.  

I served a notice to quit several months ago. Do I have to serve another notice to quit, or can I rely on the earlier notice as the basis for an eviction case?

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, a new notice to quit is not generally required.

Reasons for eviction

Do I need to state the reason I want to evict my tenant in the notice to quit and summary process summons and complaint?

It depends on why you want to evict your tenant. If the reason for the eviction is a violation of a lease term or nonpayment of rent, this reason must be stated in the notice to quit. If the tenant is a tenant-at-will, or if the lease has expired, no reason other than expiration of the notice to quit or of the lease is required. 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, the reason for eviction cannot be an illegal one.

Other issues landlords may face

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 unit, the landlord may 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.

Next steps 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.

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