This is an update for landlords/property managers concerning the status of summary process/eviction actions in the Massachusetts Courts and how things are proceeding in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Court Closures and New Trial/Hearing Dates:

Massachusetts Courts are currently operating but remain CLOSED to physical access through April 6, 2020, for anything other than emergency matters.  “Emergency matters” are generally limited to issues such as restraining orders and harassment prevention orders.

For the time being, there will be no court appearances on eviction/summary process cases until after April 21, 2020.  Any cases which were scheduled for hearings or trials are currently being postponed.  We have spoken to the clerks of various courts and they have indicated that written notices of rescheduled court dates will be sent out to the parties in the near future.  If you have already filed an eviction/summary process case which was postponed, the Courts will contact you and provide a new date.

The courts do have a limited number of staff present to deal with other urgent matters by telephone, including motions to stay move outs and motions seeking temporary restraining orders.  Generally, the best way to contact the courts during this time is to call the Courthouse and follow the prompts to reach an employee in the clerk’s office.

New Summary Process Cases/Notices to Quit for Cause or Non-Payment of Rent:

One thing that has become abundantly clear is that the pandemic is hurting employment and the economy.  Unemployment filings have skyrocketed, and we anticipate that many tenants are or will soon be facing job loss and extreme financial instability.  For those reasons, your property may decide NOT to serve or file any new summary process cases at this time.  However, there is no law or other authority which actually prohibits you from bringing new cases during the pandemic.

For the time being, most of the courts are accepting new eviction/summary process cases for filing.  If you choose to file new cases keep in mind that, as noted above, the cases will not be scheduled for a trial before April 21, 2020 at the earliest.  Hopefully tenants will be able to make arrangements to pay any overdue balance before that time.  However, if they have not, you will get a date for trial.  Also, even though the cases will not be heard by the Court for several weeks, receiving the summary process complaint may demonstrate to your tenants that payment of rent is still expected and required during this time.

Attempting to Mediate Cases Via Phone:

The Court System has encouraged parties to try to enter into repayment agreements/agreements for judgment outside of court.  Certain Housing and District courts have employees who are willing to speak to the parties by telephone and attempt to mediate eviction/summary process cases so parties can avoid having to wait for April (or beyond) to have a case resolved.  You should decide whether any tenants at your property would be willing to attempt this.  Where tenants may be facing economic hardship, it is unclear whether any of them would (or could pursue) this option.  However, if you have a financially-stable tenant who wants to resolve a payment issue this could be an excellent solution.

Scheduling Evictions/Move Outs:

Most courts are allowing landlords to schedule move outs/physical evictions where the landlord has already received the execution for possession after going through the eviction process.  We have spoken to several constables and they are ready and willing to proceed with serving 48-hour notices and moving forward with evictions.  As far as we know, at this time the ONLY Massachusetts Court which will not allow move outs/evictions is Southeast Housing Court.  The Southeast Housing Court has issued an order barring all evictions through March 26, 2020.  However, as you know, the situation is changing and evolving rapidly, and we suggest you contact any court directly before attempting to evict a tenant to ensure the process has not been halted.

If you decide that you would like to schedule a move out, please note that tenants will be able to seek stays of evictions by telephone.  We anticipate that Courts may be more likely to allow stays than they have been in the past.  Also, scheduling move outs during the pandemic may result in negative attention from tenant groups, local legislators and the media.  Please keep those factors in mind when considering whether to schedule a move out at this time.

If you have questions or would like to discuss eviction/summary process matters, please contact Attorney Steven D. Weil or Attorney Andrew M. Kepple, our landlord/tenant attorneys at 508-541-3000.

This blog is for informational purposes only.  It should not be considered legal advice.  All those who read this blog should seek the advice of a professional before taking action based upon any information provided herein.

© 2020 Doherty, Dugan, Cannon, Raymond & Weil, P.C.

Article by Attorney Andrew Kepple

Attorney Andrew M. Kepple has more than 10 years of experience in state and federal courts, concentrating his practice in the areas of landlord-tenant law, civil litigation and employment law.

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amk@ddcrwlaw.com