Summary Process is the legal procedure landlords must use to evict tenants from residential and commercial properties. It is one of the most abbreviated court procedures in the Commonwealth, yet it requires careful adherence to Massachusetts law and the rules that govern terminations of tenancies and evictions. Below is a summary of the steps involved in the process.
1. Termination of A Tenancy – A landlord must terminate a tenant’s tenancy before commencing a summary process action. Tenancies that are subject to a lease automatically expire at the end of the lease term. When a tenant fails to pay rent or engages in some other type of lease violation, a landlord must send the tenant a “Notice to Quit.” This notice informs the tenant of the failure to pay rent or other lease violation and demands that the tenant move out of the premises.
2. Commencing a Summary Process Action – Next, the landlord must prepare and serve a Summary Process Summons and Complaint. The complaint is a special form issued by the court which states that the landlord seeks to recover possession of the premises as well as any monies owed. The complaint also notifies the tenant as to the date and time he must appear in court for a hearing.
3. Tenant Answers and Defenses – A tenant has the right to file a response to the complaint known as an Answer. Massachusetts is a state that provides tenants with many legal protections. A tenant may raise legal defenses, counterclaims and/or requests that the landlord provide information about his case. Requests for information are known as discovery.
4. The Court Hearing – A hearing is usually scheduled for 10 days after the entry of the complaint, however, the filing of discovery automatically postpones the hearing for 14 days. Additional delays also may occur. Most, but not all, Summary Process actions resolve on the day of the court hearing. Some courts, including the state Housing Courts, encourage the parties to mediate their disputes before proceeding to trial and have specialists available to assist the parties with their negotiations. If the parties cannot resolve their dispute, the case proceeds to trial and gets decided by a judge.
5. Judgments – Once decided, the court issues a judgment that states the outcome of the case, or incorporates the terms of the parties’ agreement. Landlords who win their cases are granted possession of the premises and may request an execution to evict a tenant who still refuses to move out. A landlord may not resort to self-help, such as changing the locks or physically ejecting a tenant. The eviction process must be completed by a constable using the execution to enforce the judgment.
Should you have any questions regarding a landlord/tenant matter, please contact one of the experienced landlord/tenant attorneys at Doherty, Ciechanowski, Dugan & Cannon, P.C., including Steven D. Weil, or Lori Atkins.