I Received a Notice to Quit, What Are My Rights?
Being served a Notice to Quit (a notice from your landlord telling you to move out), or an eviction summons and complaint, is frightening. Regardless of why you are being evicted, you are not required to leave the property until a court says you must. You may have counterclaims against your landlord that can win you the right to stay in your home for an additional period of time or even provide a financial cushion for moving to a new place. However, in eviction cases you must respond to any documents you receive concerning the court case, and you must do it quickly.
If your landlord tries to kick you out without a court order or if the conditions in your unit are bad, you may be able to win a money judgment from your landlord plus any court costs and attorney fees. For cases like this, our office may be able to take your case without any advance payment or retainer from you.
If your landlord has forced you out of your home without a court order, failed to make repairs to your home, harassed or intimidated you, or you have been injured because of property conditions contact us now to see if we can help.
Covid-19 Eviction Moratoriums
The protections against eviction during the Covid pandemic are subject to changing government laws. Read our blog post “Can I Be Evicted During the Covid Emergency in Massachusetts?” to learn more.
My Landlord Sent Me A Letter That Says I Need to Leave, What Do I Do?
Eviction cases, also called summary process cases, begin with a Notice To Quit. A Notice To Quit is just a notice that says “leave by a particular date, for a particular reason, and if you don’t, the landlord is going to go to court to evict you.” If you don’t move out voluntarily, your landlord must take you to court if they want to remove you from the property. Your landlord cannot ask a court to evict you without first sending you a Notice to Quit. In addition, you are not legally required to leave by the date on the notice to quit! You have the right to a hearing in court where you can defend yourself against eviction.
The date on the Notice to Quit only marks the last day before the landlord is allowed to file an eviction case against you in court. Your landlord is NOT allowed to change the locks, remove your belongings, turn off the heat or the electricity, or harass you in any way to try and force you to leave. This kind of behavior is called a “self-help” eviction and it is illegal. If you don’t leave voluntarily, the only legal way for a landlord to regain possession of your apartment is if a court orders you to leave. What you can do to prevent an eviction will depend on the type of notice you received and the type of tenancy you have. You may have counterclaims or defenses against your landlord that can prevent your eviction or lead the court to award you money damages. You are entitled to a jury trial in an eviction case. To protect that right, you must file an Answer and a Jury Demand before your first court hearing or risk forfeiting important procedural protections. You have the right to stay in your home while your case is pending; hiring an attorney is the best way to protect your right to stay in your home and force your landlord to prove their case.
If you believe your landlord has violated the law, contact us today to see if we can take your case at no cost to you.
Nonpayment Notice to Quit
If you are behind on rent, your landlord may send you a 14 day Notice to Quit for nonpayment. If you are able to pay, you can “cure” the nonpayment and prevent the landlord from being able to bring you to court, by making that payment before the end of the applicable time periods discussed below, which differ depending on whether you have a current written lease or not.
If you have a current, written, fixed term lease, you can defeat your landlord’s case by paying all the rent owed, interest on the amount owed, and your landlord’s costs of filing an eviction case up until the Answer date for your eviction case. The landlord’s costs are not allowed to include attorney fees or service fees for the notice to quit.
If you are a “month-to-month” or “at-will” tenant, you can cure your nonpayment within 10 days after receiving the notice to quit. However, you only have the right to cure once every 12 months. For example, if you received a nonpayment Notice to Quit in January and paid what you owed you would not have the right to cure again until 12 months later.
Even if you have already used your cure right in the past 12 months, your landlord may be willing to set up a payment plan or help you apply for funds that would pay your back rent. In Western Massachusetts, Way Finders can help you determine if you qualify for aid and give you more information on the types of rental assistance available.
“No-Fault” Notice to Quit
If you are a month-to-month tenant, the landlord may choose to send you a “No-Fault” Notice to Quit. This is sometimes also called a 30 day (or rental period) Notice to Quit. These notices do not need to give a reason for why the landlord wants to end the tenancy. However, they must give you the notice at least 30 days, or 1 full rental period in advance of the vacate date, whichever is longer. This notice must terminate your tenancy on the day on which your rent is due. For example, if your rent is due on the 1st day of the month, and your landlord wants to end your tenancy by September 1, you must be given the notice to quit in writing on or before August 1. Many landlords make the mistake of giving a tenant only 30 days and ignoring the full rental period requirement. If they do, the Notice to Quit is invalid and you may be able to have your eviction case dismissed.
Lease Violation or “For Cause” Notices to Quit
If your landlord believes that your behavior is a violation of your lease, they may send you a “for cause” Notice to Quit. Your lease may address this process. If it does, your lease will control how much time the landlord must give you in the notice to quit. The standard Greater Boston Real Estate Board form lease requires a 7 day notice. If you do not have a lease or your lease does not address the issue of for cause notices, the landlord should give you the 30 day (rental period notice) discussed in the “No-Fault” section, above.
A landlord can pursue a “for cause” eviction for a variety of actions by tenants who are violating lease provisions or interfering with the quiet enjoyment, health, or safety of other tenants. Illegal drug use, harassment of other tenants, and adding unauthorized roommates or pets are some examples of lease violations that can bring about a Notice to Quit for cause.
In “for cause” cases, Massachusetts law doesn’t give a tenant the right to raise counterclaims. However, we may be able to file a separate case if you have claims against the landlord.
I Didn’t Get a Notice to Quit, I Only Received a Summons and Complaint
In most cases, if your landlord cannot prove that you actually received a Notice to Quit (for instance by proving the notice was mailed to you), the judge will dismiss the case against you. However, there are two situations where the landlord may be able to file a case without sending you a Notice to Quit.
If you had a written fixed term lease which gave you the option to renew and you didn’t choose to renew, your landlord does not need to send you a Notice to Quit. Generally, an option to renew requires you to let your landlord know you want to stay in your unit no less than 60 or 90 days before the lease term expires. The specific terms of your lease will control how much time you have to tell your landlord you want to stay. If you didn’t exercise the option to renew, your landlord can file papers in court the day after your lease term ends without sending you a notice to quit. If your landlord accepts rent after your lease ends, they may have created a new tenancy. If this has happened, you would be entitled to the no-fault notice described above and may be able to have your case dismissed.
The second situation is when the landlord believes you or other members of your household are using your apartment for the possession, sale, or manufacturing of illegal drugs, weapons, or explosives and other criminal acts. In this situation, the landlord does not need to send you a notice to quit before filing a case against you. However, the landlord is still required to bring you to court. Even if you or someone in your household has engaged in illegal activity, you are still entitled to a court hearing before your landlord can remove you from the property. If your landlord changes your locks or turns off your utilities this would still be considered a self-help eviction and you may have a winning case against the landlord.
I Asked My Landlord to Make Repairs, They Sent a Notice to Quit, Is That Allowed?
The answer to this question will depend on the specific facts of your case. However, in Massachusetts, landlords are not allowed to retaliate against a tenant for requesting repairs to their apartment. You cannot be evicted for notifying your landlord of bad conditions in writing or reporting your landlord to health inspectors. If your landlord tries to evict you, increase your rent, or otherwise substantially change your tenancy within 6 months of your reporting bad conditions, the court will assume the eviction is retaliatory and your landlord must prove otherwise. Even if it has been more than six months, an eviction can still be retaliatory. If it is found that the eviction was retaliatory the landlord can be ordered to pay up to three month’s rent, or your actual money damages, plus your court costs and attorney fees.
My Landlord Raised My Rent and I Didn’t Pay the Increase, Is That Nonpayment?
No. If the landlord raises your rent and you don’t agree to or pay the increase, the landlord cannot evict you for nonpayment as long as you continue to pay the rent amount that was agreed on before the increase. Your landlord can still send you a 30-day notice to quit, but a nonpayment Notice to Quit won’t stand up in court.
My Landlord Gave Me The Notice to Quit in Person, Is That Allowed?
Yes. Anyone can personally deliver the Notice to Quit. Your landlord, a sheriff or constable, or your landlord’s friend or relative are all legally allowed to deliver the notice. If you end up in court, the landlord must prove that you actually received the notice in order to proceed with the case.
It’s Winter, Is the Landlord Still Allowed to Kick Me Out?
Yes. There is a common myth that landlords aren’t allowed to evict tenants during cold weather. This myth is false. The landlord is required to provide adequate heat during the winter. Your landlord must provide a heating system that is capable of heating every room to between 68°F and not more than 78°F during the day and at least 64°F a night. If your heat is not working or the house is too cold, you may have a claim against your landlord that can prevent your landlord from winning an eviction case and the landlord could be ordered to pay back some or all of the rent you paid while you didn’t have adequate heat.
I Have Kids; Doesn’t the Landlord Have to Wait Until After the School Year?
No. A landlord is allowed to begin an eviction at any time of year as long as they follow all the steps required to bring an eviction case. Having children in the household will not prevent an eviction. However, if you are being evicted under a “no fault” notice to quit even the landlord wins, at the end of your case you can ask the court to postpone the landlord’s ability to force you to leave. The judge can decide to give you up to 6 months to find somewhere else to live, as long as you continue to pay rent. The judge in your case is allowed to choose whether or not she will give you more time, she is not required to let you stay. This is called a stay of execution, and the court will only consider giving a stay if you ask for one.
I am Disabled or Elderly, Does That Make a Difference?
Even if you or someone in your home is disabled or over the age of 60 the landlord can still take you to court to have you removed from the property. However, if you are being evicted under a “no fault” notice to quit even the landlord wins, at the end of your case you can ask the court to postpone the landlord’s ability to force you to leave. If someone in your household is disabled or over the age of 60, the judge can decide to give you up to 12 months to find another home, as long as you continue to pay rent. The judge in your case is allowed to choose whether or not she will give you more time. As discussed above, you must ask the court for a stay, it is not automatic and you must ask for one for the judge to consider it.
The Landlord Gave Me a Notice to Quit Because I’m Pregnant
It is generally illegal for your landlord to evict you because you are pregnant or have a child. Landlords are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of gender, race, color, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or age. If you have been sent a notice to quit because your landlord found out you were pregnant or just had a child, we may be able to take your case at no cost to you.