Update on Massachusetts Housing Court Reopening
Current federal and state laws bar landlords from proceeding with non-essential evictions. Non-essential evictions are those that deal with matters other than complaints of criminal behavior and lease violations which endanger health and safety of others.
As of June 1, 2020, non-essential eviction cases (which includes cases for non-payment of rent) are barred until August 18, 2020, or 45 days after the Commonwealth terminates its emergency order, whichever is shorter. So far, the emergency order remains in effect and there is no indication it is ending any time soon.
Many landlords had non-payment of rent cases pending in the Housing Courts prior to the eviction moratorium. We anticipate those pending cases will likely be “first on the docket” once the courts reopen. However, there has been no official guidance from the Courts on this issue. Once the courts are open, we anticipate that cases will move more slowly than in the past. We predict a very heavy case load made up of new filings in all the Housing Courts in the weeks and months after the moratorium ends. Courts in Massachusetts have suggested they may implement new rules or policies to try to reduce the initial glut of cases (such as staggering the start times for cases over the course of the day, instead of having all cases scheduled to begin at the same hour). However, there has been no official guidance on this. Once the initial backlog begins to clear, it is likely the case flow will slowly proceed back to normal levels.
Finally, we anticipate that due to financial hardships, the Courts will provide a significant amount of leniency to tenants who are behind on rent because of the pandemic. Also, there are numerous organizations (social services, charitable, and volunteer legal groups) which are providing support to tenants who are facing financial difficulties during these times. We anticipate that with the increased outside involvement from these organizations could cause an increased number of tenants filing answers and/or counterclaims than in the past. If this prediction is accurate, it could increase litigation costs for landlords and slow down the resolution of standard non-payment cases.
For now, we suggest that landlords continue to keep accurate records of which tenants owe what amounts and be prepared to send out new notice to quit to those tenants once the moratorium ends. For tenants who are engaging in other types of minor lease violations (such as noise complaints, improper sub leasing, smoking, etc.) landlords still cannot proceed with court actions, but they can take other actions such as sending cease and desist letters or warning letters to those tenants.
Our office is still operating as usual and we are available to assist and answer any questions you may have about the eviction moratorium, non-payment of rent cases, and the reopening of the state’s Housing Courts. Please contact Attorney Steven D. Weil, Attorney Andrew M. Kepple, or one of our other 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.
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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