Massachusetts Summary Process Explainer Video Transcript — English
This video was developed under grant number SJI-19-T-038 from the State Justice Institute. The points of view expressed are those of the Massachusetts Trial Courts and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the State Justice Institute.
This video is just for information. It is not legal advice. If you are involved in an eviction case (also known as summary process) and want legal advice, you should talk to a lawyer.
This video represents the current state of summary process in Massachusetts and is subject to change.
Welcome. This video gives tenants and landlords in Massachusetts general information about eviction cases. It also discusses court resources that may be available to assist in resolving an eviction case.
Keep in mind, the information provided in this video is for general informational purposes only. It is not legal advice.
Let’s start by talking about what an eviction is. An eviction is the legal process for a landlord or owner to remove a tenant or occupant from their home. Eviction cases in Massachusetts are also called “summary process” cases.
In Massachusetts, a residential eviction case will most likely be heard in one of three court departments. These are the District Court, the Boston Municipal Court, or the Housing Court.
The person or entity starting the case is called the plaintiff. In eviction cases, this is usually the landlord or owner of the property. The defendant is the person who will need to respond to, and defend against, the plaintiff’s complaint. In eviction cases, this is usually the tenant or occupant.
Depending on where the property is located, the plaintiff will decide in which of these courts to start the case. Note that plaintiffs and defendants in eviction cases in the District Court or Boston Municipal Court have the right to transfer the case to the Housing Court up until the day of trial.
Now let’s look at the eviction process a little more closely. We’ll begin with the service of a Notice to Quit.
Before an eviction can occur, a landlord or owner must serve the tenant with a document called a Notice to Quit. A standard Notice to Quit tells the tenant that they may be evicted if they do not move out within a certain period of time. It also tells the tenant that the landlord or owner plans to go to court to seek an eviction if the tenant does not move out voluntarily before the stated deadline.
A landlord cannot force a tenant to move out without legal process and a court order. Note that the specific requirements and timeline for a Notice to Quit depend on the reason for the eviction and the type of tenancy.
Also, in any eviction case for nonpayment of rent, the landlord must give the tenant another form. This form is called the “Attestation Form to Accompany Residential Notice to Quit.” In that form, the landlord must swear to certain statements of fact, and provide the tenant with rental assistance information. This requirement is under a temporary law that is currently in effect, but it may change in the future.
At this point, the tenant may move out or resolve the case with the landlord by the time the Notice to Quit expires. If they do not, the landlord may file a Summary Process Summons and Complaint. This is a formal complaint that is first delivered to (or served on) the tenant, and then filed with the court. The eviction process in court begins once the landlord has filed the required documents with the court and the eviction case has been entered.
Currently, landlords should note on the Summons and Complaint that the trial date is “to be determined by the court.”
The landlord delivers the Summons and Complaint to the tenant through a legal process called service. This process notifies the tenant in the proper, legal way that there is a case against them in court.
Service may be done in different ways, such as by personal delivery from a constable or sheriff or by another adult not involved in the case. The person who served the papers, the server, must then fill out a Proof of Service, confirming that the tenant received them.
Once the case is entered into court, the court will schedule the first hearing and let everyone know the date and time, and whether it will be in person or virtual. This hearing is often called the first-tier court event.
In the Housing Court, parties will also receive a civil informational sheet, along with their court notice.
Both the landlord and the tenant MUST show up for the first-tier court event. If the landlord, tenant, or both fail to appear, the court may dismiss the case or enter a judgment against the tenant, as appropriate.
Before the first-tier event, the tenant has the right to file a written Answer with the court. An Answer is a response to the landlord’s complaint and generally includes a denial of the disputed statements in the landlord’s complaint, any defenses against the landlord’s claims, any claims by the tenant against the landlord, any request for a jury trial, and any request for discovery, which is the process of obtaining relevant information about the case from the landlord.
At this time, an Answer must be filed with the court at least three days before the initial first-tier court event. A copy must also be given to the landlord. If this is not done in time, the tenant must submit a request to file a late Answer, which the judge would rule on.
The first-tier court event will generally be held virtually. At this event, the court will refer the parties to a mediator if the parties are in the District Court or Boston Municipal Court, or a Housing Specialist if the parties are in the Housing Court.
During this process, the tenant and the landlord may choose to resolve their issue through mediation. Mediation is a confidential process in which a professional mediator can help the landlord and tenant reach an agreement in the case without going in front of a judge.
In addition to mediation, the first-tier court event is an opportunity to hear the any agreed upon facts, disputes, and positions of the parties. It is also an opportunity to learn more about possible rental assistance and the availability of court resources and programs.
For example, in the Housing Court, housing specialists may refer parties to the Tenancy Preservation Program. In addition, landlords and tenants who don’t have lawyers may get legal advice through the Housing Court’s Lawyer for a Day program.
If the landlord and tenant choose not to go to mediation, or cannot resolve their issue through mediation, the case will be scheduled for trial.
If this happens, the court will send the parties a notice of the trial date. This notice will also tell the parties whether the trial will be held virtually or in person.
Note that while the parties wait for trial, the landlord may request the court to order the tenant to make housing payments. The court may order the tenant to make housing payments to the court which holds the money until the case is decided, or the tenant may have to pay the landlord directly. Failure to follow the court’s order may result in judgment for the landlord.
If a tenant in an eviction case for nonpayment of rent has a pending application for rental assistance, the court may issue an order continuing (or delaying) the case for a specific period of time. The court cannot enter a judgment or issue a move-out order, called an execution of possession, until there is a decision on the application for rental assistance. This step is under a temporary law that is currently in effect, but it may change in the future.
On the trial date with the judge, the tenant and landlord each present their side of the case when the judge asks. Whether trial is held virtually or in-person, the parties must follow courtroom rules and protocols.
After hearing both sides of the case, the judge will make a decision. The judge may issue other orders, too. These may include steps that the landlord, tenant, or both, must take during or after the trial.
After a judge issues a decision and judgment is entered, the parties have ten days to appeal the judge’s order, if they choose. However, the parties may be able to file certain requests – or motions - with the court after the judge makes the decision and judgment enters. In that case, the ten-day deadline to file a notice of appeal restarts on the day that such motion is decided.
The court may also order the tenant to provide an appeal bond. The amount of the appeal bond will be decided and ordered by the court and the appeal bond will be paid to the landlord. The court may, upon request, waive the appeal bond if the court determines that a tenant is unable to pay. However, the court may still order the tenant to make payments while an appeal is pending. An appeal may also be dismissed if the tenant does not pay the appeal bond or any other payments ordered by the court.
Unless an appeal is pending, a landlord with the right to take the property back may, within three months of the judgment, request the court to issue an execution for possession, which is an order allowing an eviction.
If the court issues an order to allow an execution for possession, the landlord may ask a sheriff or constable to serve the tenant with 48-hours’ notice of eviction. This notice informs the tenant that if they do not move out by a certain date and time, the officer will physically remove the tenant and their possessions from the property to a storage facility nearby. Tenants can be evicted only on a weekday between 9 am and 5 pm. Tenants cannot be evicted on the weekend or a federal holiday.
We hope this video helped you learn more about the eviction process in Massachusetts. Remember—this video provides a general overview only, and is for informational purposes—not legal advice.
Also, depending on the facts of a case, there may be certain limitations, other options available, or specific requirements or laws that must be followed.
Additionally, the courts can also help with other housing-related issues and can provide you with an interpreter or any other reasonable accommodation you may need. If you have any questions or concerns, contact your court clerk’s office.