January 30, 2020

Facing Eviction? What You Need to Know

Receiving an eviction notice is overwhelming, to say the least. Don’t panic. You can’t be forcibly removed without a court order—the notice only informs you that a court case is beginning. This post will cover some of the essential information and resources available to help you navigate the process.

1. Read Your “Notice to Quit” Carefully

A landlord can’t legally evict you without first serving you a formal eviction notice. The most important information is usually located in a box at the bottom of the page. Look for the following:

  • Your trial date and time. It’s very important to get to court early—if you aren’t there when your case is called, the judge will default in the landlord’s favor. (A default can be reversed, but it makes things much more complicated.)
  • The deadline to file an “Answer” to the notice.
    • The Answer is how you submit your side of the story to the court. It outlines the legal reasons why you should not be evicted. You can also file counterclaims—for example, the landlord wouldn’t fix bad conditions in the apartment, or they discriminated against you in some way.
    • You won’t automatically lose if you don’t file an Answer, but it will greatly strengthen your case and make the process go more smoothly.
    • The same deadline applies to filing for “discovery,” which allows you to compel your landlord to produce evidence supporting your case. Filing for discovery with your Answer will automatically delay the trial date by two weeks—it’s a good way to buy time. You can also file a request for a jury trial by this deadline.
    • Be sure to hand-deliver the Answer or mail it first class to both the court clerk’s office and your landlord by the deadline.
  • The reason for eviction.
    • (If you are a tenant at-will, and you don’t have an active written lease, this might not be on your notice.)
    • If you are being evicted for not paying rent, you are legally entitled to stop the eviction by paying back all the rent you owe.
  • The court clerk’s office phone number. If you have any questions about logistics for any of the above, they are the first place to turn.

2. Preparing for Defense & Resources to Help

Has your landlord neglected or refused to make repairs in your apartment? If so, it could be a defense against eviction. Whatever the issue is, you should call your local Inspectional Services Department (ISD) or Board of Health as soon as possible to schedule a complete inspection of your unit. A certified copy of an ISD inspection report is a reliable form of evidence to document the bad conditions for the court. Also, be sure to gather any records of relevant conversations with your landlord, making note of the date, and any other important events.

There are a range of free resources in Massachusetts that may be able to help you:

  • The state government funds several homelessness prevention programs that may be able to assist you:
    • RAFT offers short-term financial assistance to low-income individuals and families.
    • TPP helps negotiate settlements for tenants facing eviction because of lease violations related to a disability.
  • Most housing courts have trained housing specialists in the clerk’s office. They can provide information about housing law, help you with filling out forms, and refer you to appropriate local organizations that offer legal aid or financial assistance. In some instances, they can also help with mediation and make recommendations to the court.
  • Many housing courts also have free Lawyer for the Day programs that can offer legal advice, negotiate a settlement, and even represent you before the judge. To check if there is a program at your court, and if there will be attorneys volunteering on your trial date, call the clerk’s office.

Lastly: if you think you need the help of a private attorney, call the Boston Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at (617)-742-0625, or fill out our online form here.