Evictions Remain A “Lose-Lose” For Massachusetts Landlords: A Case Study
Recent Case Shows Fundamental Flaws Remain In The Housing Court Eviction System
I recently concluded an eviction with a forced moved out in Dorchester, MA, which epitomizes everything that is wrong with the system here in Massachusetts. For the privacy of the parties, I will not divulge the names or docket number of the case.
I represented the property owner, a young woman who grew up low income in Worcester and put herself through college, then law school, and is now working at a law firm. She bought a condo unit in Dorchester, but then had to relocate for work, so she rented it out to four people, including the defendant-tenant. The tenant, a young male, had a very hard time getting along with the other housemates so the three other tenants moved out, leaving this tenant there alone. Initially my client said that if he found new roommates, he could stay, but it was apparent that he was not going to do that, so we issued a notice to quit back in January 2021. He also stopped paying any rent.
When he failed to move out, we filed the eviction in Eastern (Boston) Housing Court in March 2021. The tenant was savvy and knew how to work the system. He took advantage of free legal services attorneys at every juncture in the case. We had two mediation sessions, where initially he appeared willing to enter into a move out agreement only to pull the rug out at the very last minute. We even dangled a cash-for-keys deal, which he rejected.
The tenant then tried to claim a jury trial after the deadline to do so, so we had a motion hearing on that issue, which thankfully Judge Kelleher denied that motion, but this also delayed the case. There was a snowstorm cancellation on the original trial date thrown in as well. We finally received a firm bench trial date in March 2022 — a full year after the case was filed. The tenant also refused to apply for RAFT aid (and we did not want to pursue that because we would be required to dismiss the case). Believe me, I tried to push the case forward as fast as I could, but with the pandemic case backlog it is very difficult.
My client came in from California for the trial which took all of 20 minutes, and went in our favor on all issues. Meanwhile, the tenant had still not paid a penny in rent, and the rent balance had ballooned to over $ 40,000 by that point. Judgement for possession entered for the landlord, and an execution for possession (move out order) issued in April 2022.
Due to the pandemic caused backlog of cases, the Suffolk Sheriff’s Office is extremely backed up in scheduling eviction move-out’s. We did not receive a firm date for our move out until June 1. We tried to negotiate a voluntary move out with the tenant but he would not budge. After all, he was living rent free himself in a 4 bedroom condo unit — why would he move out?
On June 1, a team of Suffolk Sheriff deputies, movers and a locksmith (all paid for by the landlord) conducted the move out. The tenant was completely non-cooperative and refused to open the door. A supervising lieutenant and Boston police officers were called as back up because you never know what could happen in this day and age. After about a 90 minute stand off, the deputies breached the door and gained entry. Not surprisingly, the unit was absolutely trashed, rugs destroyed, bottles of liquor everywhere, walls damaged, etc. Huge thanks to the Suffolk Sheriff deputies who were unbelievably professional and a pleasure to deal with.
After 16 months since the notice to quit was issued, here are my client’s losses: Lost rent ($ 55,000), attorneys’ fees ($ 10,000 range), court costs and eviction move out costs ($ 6000 range), clean up restoration costs ($ 5000+ range).
It’s these type of cases which should be highlighted when state legislators push the Right to Counsel and Just Cause Eviction bills. Massachusetts remains one of the worst states for landlords in the country. That much is undisputed.