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When to Take a Tenant to Court

Although far from an ideal situation, there are certain situations when a landlord may find that he or she must take a tenant to court for eviction purposes.

In order to legally evict a tenant in Massachusetts, a landlord must properly terminate a tenancy and get permission from a court to legally take possession of the apartment.

Here are three common reasons to sue to evict a tenant:

  1. Unpaid rent. Landlords typically have the right to take tenants to court for eviction when tenants are late on rent. It may be a first-time delinquency for delinquent rent payment (and a failure to cure it) or for a pattern of late payment. In Massachusetts, the landlord must send the tenant a statutory 14 day "notice to quit" before starting the eviction process.
  2. Violation of term or condition of lease. A landlord can take tenants to court when they have violated an agreed-upon term or condition of the lease multiple times and have failed to correct or cure the defect. For example, this applies to tenants who continue to have pets in rental units that do not allow animals or to tenants that continue to smoke when there is a clear no-smoking clause in the rental contract. The eviction provision of a lease should state specific reasons allowing a landlord to evict a tenant.
  3. Using property for illegal purpose. A landlord may also evict a tenant who uses the apartment for illegal purposes, such as smoking marijuana in the unit. This broad prohibition applies to conducting all illegal activities in the leased property, such as making or selling drugs, or engaging in gang-related activity.
  4. Bonus: Tenant is bankrupt. Under certain circumstances, a landlord may evict a tenant who is in bankruptcy. However, the landlord may need prior permission from the bankruptcy court to initiate an eviction. The case will depend on a number of factors, including the timing (i.e. whether the tenant already filed or is about to file for bankruptcy), whether the eviction is for non-payment of rent, and whether the tenant used the property for an illegal purpose.

Even if you choose to handle eviction issues on your own in housing court, it may worth your time, money, and energy to consult a real estate attorney to make sure you're covering all of your bases and are on the right track.

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