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What happens during an eviction

Learn the steps involved in an eviction case and find tips and resources to help.

The eviction process starts when a landlord serves a tenant a Notice to Quit. The case then goes to court and a decision is eventually reached. Advice and legal resources for tenants facing an eviction can be found throughout this guide and on the Help for Tenants Facing Eviction page.

The Eviction Process

The Eviction Process

To start an eviction, the landlord must provide a written Notice to Quit (Eviction Notice) informing the tenant that they intend to end the tenancy. Eviction notices are usually served for one of three reasons:

  • Non-payment of rent
  • Lease violation: the tenant did not follow the lease terms.
  • Tenancy at will (no fault): If the tenant does not have a lease, the landlord can end the tenancy even if rent has been paid and the terms of the lease have been followed.

Landlords must follow the legal process and cannot force a tenant out by changing the locks or shutting off the utilities. They are also required to inform tenants of their rights through the Housing Stability Notification Act.

Housing Stability Notification Act

Once the notice period ends, landlords start the court eviction process by serving another document called a Summons and Complaint. 

A Summons and Complaint includes:
  • when to appear in court for trial
  • where to appear for trial, including the name and location of the courthouse
  • when the tenant’s response is due (including any answer, counterclaims, or discovery)
  • how much rent, if any, the landlord claims the tenant owes.

Tenants have the right to respond to an eviction case started by the landlord. A tenant’s response may include the following documents:


Claims made against the landlord by the tenant. Counterclaims, if successful, can reduce the amount a tenant owes, or require the landlord to pay the tenant. 

However, if a tenant is being evicted for a lease violation, they cannot file a counterclaim. 

Counterclaims might include:
  • Security Deposit Law Violation: The landlord did not properly take, account for, or return the security deposit.
  • Breach of Warranty of Habitability: A landlord did not provide safe and decent housing.
  • Breach of Quiet Enjoyment: The landlord unreasonably interfered with the use of the apartment.
  • Improper Rent of Adjustment: This is a counterclaim for tenants in subsidized or public housing. It happens when the rent is not accurately set or adjusted, or the landlord seeks money that was not owed.
Motion to Dismiss

A request that the court throw out the landlord’s case. If it’s successful, this ends the existing case and the landlord will need to start the process over again to evict the tenant.

An eviction case could be dismissed because:
  • A Notice to Quit Was Not Delivered: Landlords must give the tenant the Notice to Quit before filing a case in court.
  • Complaint Filed Too Soon: The Summary Process Complaint was received by the tenant before the time period stated in the Notice to Quit.
  • The Tenant Cleared a Non-Payment: Based on a  written lease, the tenant paid all of the rent owed.
  • Notice and Hearing Rights Denied: In certain types of housing, tenants have additional rights to discuss the eviction with the landlord, or to have a grievance hearing. If these rights were denied to  the tenant the eviction case can be dismissed. 

A request for more information from the landlord. The timely filing of discovery postpones the trial date two weeks. This will rarely stop an eviction but can help by delaying the process.

Notice to Transfer

Tenants have the right to transfer eviction cases filed in the District Court Divisions to the Boston Housing Court. 

Contact Boston Housing Court

Visit our Legal Help page and MassLegalHelp for more information on low cost legal services. 

Consider transferring the case to Massachusetts Housing Court who specializes in hearing eviction cases. Eviction cases will otherwise be heard in local district court.

Contact Boston Housing Court

  • Housing Court judges only hear housing cases.
  • Housing Court staff have greater expertise in housing matters.
  • Boston Housing Court offers mediation.
  • Legal help for housing court cases is available through the Lawyer for the Day Program.
    • Complete the Notice to Transfer Form.
    • There is no cost to transfer a case.
    • The Notice to Transfer Form must be filed by the day before the original court date. 
    • File the Notice to Transfer with the District Court, Housing Court, and the landlord.

Be sure to go to court on the date and time on your court notice. If a tenant fails to appear the judge will rule in favor of the landlord, and the eviction will proceed. If the landlord fails to appear, the court may dismiss the case.

Before going to court, tenants should be prepared. 

Tenants should make sure they have all of their paperwork and witnesses ready.


Documents to bring to trial include:
  • copies of the rental agreement
  • rent receipts 
  • pictures or documents of the apartment’s condition.
  • citations from Inspectional Services, if an apartment condition is at issue.
Defenses are legal reasons the landlord should not win the eviction case.
  • Defective or No Notice to Quit: The landlord did not give a Notice to Quit, or the Notice to Quit didn’t have all the required information.
  • Defective Summary Process Complaint: The Complaint contains missing or wrong information, or was not properly served.
  • Unlawful Discrimination: The landlord has refused to rent, or attempted to end the tenancy, because the tenant belongs to a protected class.
  • Denied or Entitled to a Reasonable Accommodation: Tenants have the right to reasonable accommodations if they, or a member of their home have a disability. 
  • The Eviction Notice is Retaliatory: Landlords can’t retaliate against a tenant because they exercise their legal rights. An example of a legal right is contacting Inspectional Services.
  • Tenancy Reinstated: Either the tenant paid the amount due by the Answer date, or a new lease is signed.
  • No Significant Lease Violation: The violation was minor, or can be corrected through means other than an eviction.

If the case has not been resolved after initial court hearings and meetings, the case will be heard at trial. It's important to seek legal help before going to trial. At trial, each side tells their side of the story with supporting documents and witnesses.

A trial generally has these events:
  1. Opening Statements. Both sides summarize their side of the story to the court.
  2. Landlord’s presentation of their case. Landlords present witnesses and documents in support of their case. Tenants and their lawyers can question the landlord’s witnesses and challenge the documents the landlord tries to present.
  3. Tenant’s presentation of defense. Tenants can present witnesses and documents in their defense. If they have counterclaims, witnesses and documents must be presented to support them. Landlords can respond by challenging those documents.
  4. Closing Statements. Both sides summarize their side of the story to the court and ask the court to make a decision in their favor.

There are rules that govern how a judge conducts a trial. The judge will hold all parties to these rules.

After trial, the judge will review the facts presented and make a decision. Both parties receive a copy of the decision in the mail. The decision will indicate:
  • If the tenant has been evicted and needs to move out.
  • How much money, if any, is awarded.
Appealing a Case

If the landlord wins the case, but the tenant thinks the judge made an error, they may appeal the decision. This will postpone the eviction. But, the tenant must act within 10 days of the date on the Judgment, or they lose the opportunity to appeal. Before they are allowed to appeal, the tenant may have to pay the court to cover any back rent owed, and other costs. The appeal process is complicated. We suggest tenants seeking an appeal get detailed legal help.

The Landlord Gets an Execution

If the judge rules against the tenant in an eviction case, an execution will be granted. An execution is a legal document that allows a constable or sheriff to move the tenant out. Landlords must wait at least 10 days after the decision to get an execution.

Tenants Facing a No-Fault Eviction

Tenants facing a no-fault eviction may file a motion asking the court to delay the eviction for up to six months. If someone in the household is disabled or over 60 years old, the eviction can be delayed for up to 12 months. Seek legal help when filing this request.

Extending the Time Period

A judge may grant some additional time to move out if they think it’s appropriate. This extra time may be very limited. A judge is more likely to grant a tenant additional days if they are actively looking for new housing and documenting the housing search process.

Tenants need to be given a written notice before a constable or sheriff can use the execution. The notice must be received at least 48 hours before the date and time when the constable or sheriff will arrive. They can only remove a tenant during normal business hours, and not on weekends or holidays.


Go to the court right away and seek an emergency stay (delay). There may have been a court hearing that you missed.


Go to the court that issued the execution and file a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO). You have to pay a fee to file the request. But, the fee may be waived depending on your income. If allowed by the court, this can give you a few more days (often about 10) to move out.

On the date of the eviction, a sheriff or constable will come to remove the tenant, their family, and their belongings. Their property cannot just be dumped onto the street, it must be taken to a warehouse. Tenants can ask the movers to take their belongings to a specific location. The 48-hour notice will provide information on the storage of belongings, including:

  • information about the warehouse and its location
  • notice of the storage fees for that warehouse
  • notice that the warehouse may sell the property after six months
  • notice of how to get the property back.

If your notice does not include all these items, or if your landlord dumps your belongings on the street or in the trash, call the court that ordered the eviction. Your eviction can be delayed for violations by your landlord.

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