With passing of the FY18 Massachusetts budget, the Massachusetts Trial Court has undertaken an expansion of its Housing Court system. What was formerly known as Western, Boston, Worcester, Northeast, and Southeast Housing Courts have been redistricted and rebranded to Western, Central, Eastern, Metro-South, Northeastern, and Southeastern Divisions of the Housing Court. New Housing Court Chief Justice Timothy Sullivan has been credited with working to make the Legislative funding for this expansion a reality – much to his credit.
I believe this expansion will benefit both landlords and tenants, as there has been a lapse in housing court jurisdiction for certain parts of Massachusetts. The lapse stems from Housing Court’s 20th century creation as a new and concurrent jurisdiction to district and superior court, in order to handle the burgeoning number of disputes in that still new and growing area of law. Thus, until this fiscal year, if tenants were facing eviction in Barnstable or certain parts of Middlesex Counties, for example, they were relegated to a court setting that may have been preoccupied with “more important” matters like contract disputes, criminal proceedings, and other more traditional cases more likely within the various judges’ backgrounds and thus fortes.
Further, the Housing Court is enabled with resources specific to this brand of legal issue, such as Housing Court Specialists, who work for the court as impartial negotiators to help tenants and landlord come to an agreement to resolve their case – often without having to resort to litigation or risk their freedom of choice by putting their fate in the hands of the jury or judge.
Individuals that have not dealt with landlord-tenant disputes may underestimate how tense and volatile a landlord-tenant relationship can become. The tenant and landlord both feel they are under attack, as the landlord “just wants their property back” and the tenant can not escape it until they find a new place at the very least.
Both sides of the coin can benefit from the area-specific resources and knowledge available in the new Massachusetts Housing Court system. Thus, landlords should begin taking advantage of this enhanced jurisdiction when filing summary process, civil cases, or small claims – although they may still file as previously in their respective district court – and tenants should be quick to remove any housing case filed in district court per M.G.L. c.185C s.3 and 20.