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How to respond to an eviction

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Learn about the steps you can take before, during, and after the court process.


Your landlord gives you a Notice to Quit

To start an eviction, your landlord must give you a written Notice to Quit telling you they plan to end your tenancy.

Landlords usually start the eviction process for one of three reasons:

  • Non-payment. You didn’t pay your rent. 
  • Lease violation. You didn’t follow the lease terms. 
  • No-Fault. If you do not have a lease, the landlord can end the tenancy even if you've paid your rent and followed the rules. Most often, a no-fault eviction occurs if the landlord wants to sell or renovate the property, or move in family members.

Learn more about what you can do if you receive a notice to quit.

Please remember:

A landlord cannot force you out by changing the locks or shutting off the utilities. Landlords must follow a legal process.


Your landlord starts the court eviction process

Once the notice period runs out, your landlord can start the court eviction process. Your landlord does this by giving you a legal document called a Summons and Complaint. Do not ignore a Summons and Complaint.

A Summons and Complaint will tell you:

  • when to appear in court for trial
  • where to appear for trial, including the name and location of the courthouse
  • when your response is due (including any answer, counterclaims or discovery), and
  • how much rent, if any, the landlord claims you owe.

Respond to the Complaint

You have the right to respond to the case made by your landlord. Your response may include filing these documents:

  • Answer: Your response and defenses to your landlord's claims in the Complaint.
  • Counterclaim: Claims you make against your landlord. Counterclaims, if successful, can reduce the amount you owe or require your landlord to pay you money. If you’re being evicted for a lease violation, you can’t file counterclaims.
  • Motion to Dismiss: You can request that the court throw out your landlord’s case. If it’s successful, this will end your landlord’s case against you, or they may have to start the process all over again.
  • Discovery: A request for more information from your landlord. The timely filing of discovery postpones the trial date two weeks. But, this will rarely stop an eviction.
  • Notice to Transfer: Tenants have the right to transfer eviction cases filed in the District Court Divisions to the Boston Housing Court. District divisions include East Boston District Court, Roxbury District Court, and Dorchester District Court.

You can learn more about some common defenses in eviction cases. Use Massachusetts Defense for Eviction (MADE) to help legally respond to your court eviction. Find sample answer and counterclaim forms, as well as motion to dismiss and discovery forms on MassLegalHelp. Talk to an attorney to find out which may be appropriate to file.


Before you go to court, be prepared

Make sure you have all your paperwork and witnesses ready. A judge won’t give you more time or a new trial date because your paperwork is at home. Documents to bring to trial include:

  • copies of your rental agreement
  • rent receipts in a nonpayment case
  • pictures or documents of any apartment condition at issue, and
  • citations from Inspectional Services, if an apartment condition is at issue.

Go to court

You must go to court at the date and time on your court notice. If you fail to appear, you may lose your housing.  You may need to miss work, or arrange for childcare. Do you have an event that can’t be rescheduled, like surgery or a funeral? Contact your landlord or their attorney. You can see if they’ll agree to postpone the case.

Failing to appear

If your landlord fails to appear, the court may dismiss the landlord’s case. If you fail to appear, the judge will rule in favor of your landlord, and you’ll be evicted. If you receive a paper from the court that you have lost an eviction case by default, seek legal help with filing a motion to vacate. GO TO COURT. If you don't, you will lose your case and your home.

housing Court cases

If your eviction case will be heard in Boston Housing Court, check out this separate housing court page that explains that process.


Consider mediating or negotiating a deal

You can talk to the other side and try to work out an agreement that resolves the eviction case without a trial. This can be done through mediation or negotiation. If you can’t reach an agreement, the judge will hold a trial.

  • In a mediation, you’ll have a third party present who will help you come to an agreement. This person is called a mediator. The Boston Housing Court and some of the District Courts offer mediation.
  • Tenants and landlords can also talk directly to reach a deal. You may have to negotiate for yourself with your landlord’s lawyer. Be sure to advocate for your own interests. 

If you come to an agreement, you must put the terms in writing. Both sides need to sign this document and give it to the court. The court can enforce your deal. We have more tips on mediating or negotiating an eviction case.


If you go to trial

You have the right to have your case heard at trial. It's important to seek legal help before going to trial. At trial, each side tells their side of the story with supporting documents and witnesses.  A trial generally has these events:

  • Opening Statements. Both sides summarize their side of the story to the court.
  • Landlord’s presentation of case. Your landlord will present witnesses and documents in support of their case. You’ll be able to question your landlord’s witnesses. You can also challenge the documents the landlord tries to present.
  • Tenant’s presentation of defense. You present witnesses and documents in your defense. If you have counterclaims, you must present witnesses and documents in support of those. Your landlord will have a chance to question your witnesses. They can also challenge any documents you try to present to the court.
  • Closing Statements. Both sides summarize their side of the story to the court. They ask the court to make a decision in their favor.

There are rules that govern how a judge conducts a trial.  The judge will hold all parties to these rules.


The judge makes a decision

After trial, the judge will review the facts presented and make a decision. You will receive a copy of the decision in the mail.  The decision will tell you:

  • if the landlord can move you out.
  • how much money, if any, is awarded.

Learn more about what happens after a judge rules against you in an eviction case.

Appealing your case

If your landlord wins the case, but you think the judge made an error, you may appeal the decision. This will postpone the eviction. But, you must act within 10 days of the date on the Judgment, or you lose this opportunity.

Before you’re allowed to appeal, you may have to pay the court to cover any back rent you owe, and other costs. This is called an appeal bond. The court may waive the appeal bond if the tenant is low income and can show some defense exists. Ask the Clerk’s Office for more information. The appeal process is complicated. We suggest you get detailed legal help.


Your landlord gets an execution

If the judge rules against you in your eviction case, your landlord must wait at least ten days after the decision to get an execution. An execution is a legal document that allows a constable or sheriff to move you and your belongings out.

Are you facing a no-fault eviction?

You may file a motion asking the court to delay the eviction for up to six months so you can find new housing. If someone in your household is disabled or over 60 years old, you may request up to 12 months. Seek legal help when filing this request.

Extending the time period

In other eviction cases, a judge may give you some additional time to move out if they think it’s appropriate.  This extra time may be very limited.  Look hard to find new housing and document all your work.


You receive a notice to vacate

You need to be given a written notice before a constable or sheriff can use the execution. You must receive the notice at least 48 hours before the date and time when the constable or sheriff will come to your apartment. They can’t move you out on a weekend or legal holiday. They can only move you out during normal business hours.

Get a 48-hour notice, but weren’t expecting it?

Go to the court right away and seek an emergency stay. There may have been a court hearing that you missed. 

Need a little more time to move out?

Go to the court that issued the execution and file a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO). You have to pay a fee to file the request. But, the fee may be waived depending on your income. If allowed by the court, this can give you a few more days (often about 10) to move out.


You and your belongings are moved out

On the date of the eviction, a sheriff or constable will come to remove you, your family, and your stuff.

Please keep in mind

Your property can’t just be dumped onto the street; it must be taken to a warehouse. You may be able to ask the movers to take your things to a specific location.

The 48-hour notice will give you information on the storage of your things, including:

  • information about the warehouse where your landlord will store your property
  • notice of the storage fees for that warehouse
  • notice that the warehouse may sell your property after six months
  • notice that you must let the warehouse know if your address changes, and
  • notice of how to get your property back.

If your notice does not include all these items, or if your landlord dumps your belongings on the street or in the trash, call the court that ordered the eviction to stop it.

Do you need emergency shelter?

Please consider the resources listed at the bottom of this page.

Emergency shelter

If you lose an eviction case and need emergency shelter, there are options.

Help for individual people

We created a list of emergency shelters. Intake hours and policies are different for each shelter. Think you may need to stay at a shelter? Call ahead to make sure you can get access a bed.

Help for families

You should apply for emergency shelter in person at:

1010 Massachusetts Avenue
Boston, MA 02118

You can contact the Office of Housing Stability at 617-635-4200 (select option 1) to learn more about your options.

Family tip

Do not refuse a shelter placement. You’ll lose your right to shelter for 12 months. You can appeal a placement that is too far away from your community.

Services for the homeless

Eligibility for families

You may be eligible for help, but the rules are very strict. If you’re evicted, there’s no guarantee you will get into a shelter. To receive shelter benefits, you must be:

  • a resident of Massachusetts
  • at the income standard for emergency help, and
  • either be pregnant, or have needy children under the age of 21.

Also, to get help, your reason for homelessness must be one of the following:

  • foreclosure or condemnation
  • fleeing domestic violence (current or within the past 12 months)
  • a no-fault eviction (this may include eviction from private housing for nonpayment of rent where there was a change in circumstances, such as a loss of income or increase of rent), or
  • having children exposed to a substantial health and safety risk.

If you’re evicted from subsidized housing, the state may bar you from getting emergency shelter for three years.

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