FAQ: Landlord & Tenant Law

Q: How do I fill out the Summary Process Summons and Complaint?

A: Each case is different and you should consult a housing lawyer if unsure of how to proceed. Forms can vary slightly between jurisdictions and each case has its own specific set of facts. You should at least make sure to have the legal name of the property owner and each tenant by name. If the property is owned by an LLC, company, or trust, the landlord must hire an attorney to proceed in most cases, or risk having the case dismissed.

Q: I want my tenant out but do not want to get sued for retaliation, what do I do?

A: The reality is you may not be able to evict your tenant through court if  1) the tenant has exercised her/his rights under MA law within the last 6 months and  2) you do not have a sufficient independent justification for evicting the tenant provable by clear and convincing evidence (really tough burden to overcome in court).  Retaliation by a landlord entitles the tenant to 1-3 months rent or actual damages, whichever is greater, plus attorney’s fees, and also serves as an affirmative defense to any eviction case.

Q: My tenant served discovery requests on me in the eviction case I filed, what do I do?

A: Answer them by the deadline by following the instructions included with the requests.  You must answer fully and truthfully and sign the interrogatories and requests for admissions under oath sworn under paid and penalties of perjury.  You may object and seek protective orders where appropriate – but bear the risk of any frivolous or erroneous withholdings.

Q: I have a tenant who has not paid rent in months, what do I do?

A: Send them a legally valid 14-day Notice to Quit stating the specific names of all tenants living there, as well as the specific months and amounts unpaid.  The best way to send one is by constable. Then once the notice expires you may file an eviction case for non-payment of rent.  Failure to name any tenant(s) will result in any Notice or case being legally invalid as to any such unnamed persons.

Q: I filed an eviction case, but forgot to name one of my tenants on the Notice to Quit or Summons and Complaint, or spelled their name wrong, what do I do?

A: File a Motion to Amend the complaint to add their name.  If they appear for the motion hearing they may actually agree to be named to the case or, in rare instances, the court may find sufficient notice to cure the defect and add the tenant to the case.  If they are not added to the case, you can still try to require another tenant to sign an agreement requiring them to leave and take all occupants with them.  Thus, if they leave the person unnamed at the property they will breach the agreement and use the benefit of their Agreement for Judgement. Thus, you may be able to use that social pressure to gain full possession of the apartment.   Otherwise, the only way to regain the premises would be to correctly name the tenant on a new 14-day Notice to Quit and proceed with a separate eviction case. Measuring twice and cutting once will often save a second case.

Q: Does my landlord have to control other tenants in the same building?

A: The landlord doesn’t have any duty to control other tenants, except when they do.  The true answer, as always, is: it depends.  In many cases there will be some kind of lease violation by the tenant complained of, but the landlord would need sufficient evidence to support any action against any tenant.  Thus, upon being given sufficient evidence of a lease violation by another tenant that is infringing on the complaining tenant’s right to enjoy the property free of *serious* interference, the landlord must act against the offending tenant to avoid being sued by the complaining tenant for breach of quiet enjoyment.

Q: My landlord keeps hitting on me and making sexual advances in a way that I don’t want, what do I do?

A: Just because someone is your landlord doesn’t mean they can sexually harass you at your apartment or anywhere.  If you are suffering from unwanted sexual advances from your landlord or its agents – document it the best you can and either contact an attorney or the police if the situation warrants.

Q: My landlord is evicting me, what do I do?

A: It depends.  You will need to file an Answer by the date stated on the Summons and Complaint, as well as Discovery requests, and possibly Motions and a Removal Form.  Check the Massachusetts State Sanitary Code at 105 CMR 410.00 as well as the attorney general regulations at 940 CMR 3.17 and note any violations immediately.  Take pictures and call the Board of Health immediately to demand a full inspection if any sanitary code violations exist at the property.

Q; What is a Notice to Quit? 

A: A notice to quit is a carryover from English common law – which formed the basis for much of American law at the turnoff the American Revolution.  The landlord therefore must “terminate” the tenancy and make the tenant a “tenant at sufferance” in order to bring a case to evict them for wrongfully holding possession of the premises after the notice to quit has expired.  There are different types of notices for different situations, like the 14-day for Non-Payment, the Period’s Notice for No-Cause, and the Period’s Notice For-Cause.  Each notice is used in a different circumstance and failure to understand these nuances can result in difficulties for a landlord in any eviction case or, in some cases, claims brought by tenants for injunctive and/or monetary relief.

-MS