Landlord’s Guide to Evictions - article banner

For more than a year, federal and state moratoriums have prevented many Boston landlords from evicting tenants who could not pay rent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly all eviction protections have ended now across the country, but Boston still has a city-wide order in place.

Landlords and rental property owners in the City of Boston cannot evict tenants thanks to a new city-level moratorium Acting Mayor Kim Janey signed at the end of August. The mayor is supported by the Boston Public Health Commission, which issued a public health order of their own temporary banning residential evictions.

This may not sound like good news for landlords who find themselves needing to remove a tenant. However, the city is trying to take steps to ease the burden of owners who may be facing overdue mortgage and housing payments due to an absence of consistent rent. The Department of Neighborhood Development has been instructed to create a $5 million fund to help homeowners avoid foreclosures and cover mortgage, insurance, and condominium fee costs

At Platinum Realty, we rarely have to evict the tenants we place. We’re going to walk you through the process of eviction in Boston because at some point, things will return to something that resembles normal, and you’ll be able to file eviction lawsuits again. We’re also going to share some tips about how to prevent evictions because we believe that’s just as critical as removing tenants and regaining possession of your property.

The ultimate goal of any rental property owner is to attract and place well-qualified renters and then keep them in place. That’s the best way to earn as much as you can with your investment.

Eviction in Boston: Notice to Quit

Most evictions in Boston occur because a tenant has stopped paying rent. You may also be seeking to evict for a lease violation. No-fault evictions are also common when a rental property owner decides to sell the property, inhabit it themselves, or take some time to do major renovations. If you are evicting due to any criminal activity going on at the property, know that you can still evict for this reason even while the citywide eviction moratorium is in place.

Before you begin any eviction proceedings, you must serve a Notice to Quit. This tells the tenant that you are seeking to cancel the rental agreement due to nonpayment or some violation of the contract, and you want them to move out of your property. Unless your lease states otherwise, the tenants will have 14 days to vacate the property before you move further along in the eviction process.

If you don’t have a lease agreement in place and the tenancy is “at-will,” you can simply end the month-to-month tenancy with a written notice that provides a minimum of 30 days of notice for the tenant to leave. The notice period must allow the tenants to leave at the end of a rental period. This is significant, particularly in a month like February. If you provide an at-will tenant with a notice to quit on the first of February, where there are fewer than 30 days, you cannot end that tenancy on March 1. You’ll have to wait until April 1.

Serve the Notice to Quit directly to the tenant in person, or have it served by a third party, such as a sheriff. The terminology and information included in a Notice to Quit must be exact, so ask a Boston property manager for a copy of a sample document or speak to an attorney who specializes in evictions.

Once the notice has been served, you can typically expect one of these three things to happen:

  • The tenants will move out as instructed.
  • The tenants will catch up with the rent or cure the lease violation, keeping the lease intact.
  • The tenants will not respond at all, nor will they move out of the property.

If the tenants don’t move from the rental property by the time the notice to quit expires, you will need to move on to the next step in the eviction process. This involves going to court, where you’ll request and file a Summons and Complaint from the court.

The Summons and Complaint will make the termination of your lease agreement official and also set a date for trial. An authorized constable or sheriff must serve the Summons and Complaint to the tenants. Once that service has been completed and documented, you will pay the filing fee and begin preparing for court.

Timeline for Trial in Boston Eviction Cases

Timing is everything when you’re trying to evict a tenant in Massachusetts. You’ll need to pay attention to The Entry Date, The Answer Date, and The Trial Date. If you miss any of these dates or deadlines, you’ll face having your case thrown out, which will take more time and cost more money.

  • Entry Date

The entry date marks the exact date you file with the court. After the tenant is served with the Summons and Complaint, the filing becomes official and you have your entry date. On or before the entry date, the following items must be filed with the court:

  • Your Notice to Quit
  • Your Summons and Complaint
  • Documented Return of Service

The entry date must be between 7 and 30 days after the service date and it has to be on a Monday. If Monday is a holiday, it can be on the following Tuesday.

  • Answer Date

The answer date represents the day by which your tenant’s written answer must be filed. Tenants have seven days to respond. Your tenants may have a defense to your claim that they ask the court to consider. The answer must be served and filed on or before the first Monday after the Entry Date.

  • Trial Date

This is the date that you will meet your tenants in court.

Not every tenant will request a jury trial when they file an answer, and if they don’t, you will simply have your case heard and resolved in front of a judge. Typically, the Trial Date is scheduled for 10 days after the Entry Date. If the tenant is putting together a defense and requests a discovery period, the trial date will be postponed for two weeks.

Once the case is decided in your favor, you’ll regain possession of your rental property. You’ll file a Motion for Execution in order to enforce the eviction, and the sheriff or constable will be called to serve the eviction notice on the tenants and ensure they move out of the property.

Boston Property Management: Avoiding Eviction

If you’re in a position where you feel that you need to evict a tenant, make sure you seek professional and legal help from a Boston property manager or an eviction attorney. It’s easy to make an expensive mistake, and you may delay the process or make it easier for your tenants to continue living in your property without paying rent.

Professional help is especially critical now, with the city moratorium remaining in place.

As we said earlier, preventing eviction is often just as important as understanding how to file one. There are several things you can do to ensure you’re less likely to deal with a nonpaying tenant or a tenant who violates your lease agreement.

  • Focus on Tenant Screening

A rigorous and detailed tenant screening process will ensure only well-qualified tenants are placed in your property. Make sure you’re evaluating income more than anything else. You want verified assurances that your prospective tenant has the income required to pay rent on time every month. It’s also important to check credit, criminal history, eviction history, and rental history. Talk to the landlord references you collect. It’s a good way to evaluate how a tenant has performed in the past.

  • Establish Good Tenant Relationships

There’s no good reason to become best friends with your tenants, but you do want to establish and maintain a professional and positive relationship. When you’re responsive, available, and accessible, tenants will feel comfortable talking to you and asking for help. If they know you’ll be open to hearing from them that rent may be a few days late one month, it will be easier to work something out and things won’t have to escalate to eviction.

  • Conduct Maintenance and Safety Inspections

Your tenants have a right to quiet enjoyment when they’re renting your property, and you don’t want to invade their privacy, but getting inside the home at least once a year is an important way to make sure they’re taking care of it. It also gives you the opportunity to look for lease violations and to talk with your tenants about how things are going.

Most importantly – communicate with your tenants. Keeping the lines of communication open will always lead to better rental experiences and fewer evictions.

TenantsWe provide Boston property management to new and experienced investors. We work with owners and landlords to keep evictions low. If you’d like some help avoiding them or managing them with your own rental property, please don’t hesitate to contact us at Platinum Realty Group.