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Jurisdiction and work of the Housing Court

Learn about the court and its function.

Jurisdiction

The Housing Court Department has jurisdiction over civil and criminal actions, including equitable relief, which involve the health, safety, or welfare of the occupants or owners of residential housing. The Court hears summary process (eviction) cases, small claims cases, and civil actions involving personal injury, property damage, breach of contract, discrimination, and other claims. The Housing Court also hears code enforcement actions and appeals of local zoning board decisions that affect residential housing. The Housing Court has 10 judges authorized to serve its five divisions – Central, Eastern, Northeast, Southeast, and Western  – and conducts sessions in 18 locations every week.

Kinds of cases handled by the Housing Court

The Massachusetts housing courts were established to handle cases involving residential housing. In addition to summary process (eviction) cases, the courts’ jurisdiction includes small claims cases, consumer protection cases, and civil actions involving the health, safety, or welfare of the occupants or owners of residential housing, including cases with personal injury, property damage, breach of contract, and discrimination claims.

The housing courts have jurisdiction to hear appeals of local zoning board decisions that affect residential housing, as well as appeals of tickets issued by state and local code enforcement agencies and the state fire marshal’s office. Landlords, tenants, and homeowners may seek equitable relief in the housing court in the form of restraining orders and injunctions to enforce their rights under any of the state’s laws and regulations relating to residential housing.  Additionally, housing courts have jurisdiction to hear criminal cases that are brought to enforce local ordinances or state sanitary, building, and fire prevention codes which regulate residential housing.  The jurisdiction of the housing courts generally does not extend to cases involving property that is solely commercial.

Housing specialists

Housing specialists are employees of the court who serve as mediators for cases that are filed in the housing court.  They provide information about Massachusetts housing laws to the public and assist parties who file cases in the housing court.  A housing court judge may ask a housing specialist to conduct an inspection of residential property to determine if it meets the sanitary, building, or fire prevention codes or to investigate an issue that is in dispute between parties in a case.  The housing specialists provide information and referrals to resources that are available in the court and from government agencies, housing authorities, and non-profit agencies in the local community.

Assistance for people with disabilities

If you need assistance, you should contact the clerk’s office at the court where your case is pending and speak with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator about the accommodation you need, e.g. a sign language interpreter, a hearing assistance device, a different time of day for your hearing.  The court will make a reasonable accommodation to ensure that a person with a disability has full and fair access to the court.

Transferring a case to the Housing Court

Any party can transfer a summary process (eviction), small claims, or civil case that involves residential property and is pending in another court to the housing court before the trial begins in the case.  A notice of transfer form should be filed in both courts and served on all parties or their attorneys.  Criminal cases cannot be transferred into the housing court.

It does not cost anything to transfer an existing case in another court to the housing court.

Additional Resources

Discovery in the Housing Court

Discovery requests and responses must be filed with the housing court in summary process (eviction) cases but not in civil cases.

Accessing Housing Court records

Unless a case or a part of a case is impounded, the files of housing court cases are public records. You may ask to see a case file in person at the clerk’s office during business hours (8:30 a.m. -  4:30 p.m. or as posted at the local court).  Also, a limited amount of information about each case is available on public access computers located in the clerk’s office of each court, or case information is available online via eAccess. See View electronic case information for more information.

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