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COVID-19 Eviction Updates

YOUR EVICTION CASE DURING THE CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK

See second section for information regarding illegal evictions where a court is not involved

**This information is current as of March 18, 2020**

 

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, the Courts have issued “Standing Orders” outlining changes to court processes. The information below is a summary of those changes. The full Housing Court Standing Orders can be found here. The full District Court Standing Order can be found here.

 

Postponed Court Dates

Housing Court: All pending eviction cases in the Housing Court are postponed until no earlier than Tuesday, April 21, 2020. If your eviction case is currently scheduled for a date before April 21, you do not have to go to court. You should call the courthouse. Find contact information at: https://www.mass.gov/courthouse-locator.

District Court: All pending eviction cases (summary process) in the District Court are postponed until no earlier than Monday, May 4, 2020. That means that if your eviction case is currently scheduled for any date before May 4, you do not have to go to court. You should call the courthouse. Find contact information at: https://www.mass.gov/courthouse-locator.

 

What if You Missed Court?

If you are a tenant and a judgment for possession was entered by “default” against you in the Housing Court after March 1, you can file a motion to remove the default.

 

What if a Judgment Has Already Entered Against You?

The Metro South Housing Court will not be providing landlords with executions until at least April 21 (this is not necessarily the case in other courts). If your landlord already has an execution (permission from the Court to evict you), and you have received a 48-hour notice telling you to vacate your home, you can file a motion for a stay of the levy on the execution to prevent the eviction from proceeding. Include in the motion that you cannot be evicted because you will be homeless during the coronavirus outbreak. Then email your motion to metrosouthhousingourt@jud.state.ma.us and call (508) 894-4170.

 

Get Advice Before Signing an Agreement

With the heightened risks to homelessness populations during a public health crisis, we urge you to get advice before signing any Agreement for Judgment. Keep in mind that it will likely be very difficult to find a new apartment during this crisis, so don’t agree to move out unless you are completely positive that you have somewhere else to go.

 

If you have questions about a pending eviction case and have experienced domestic violence, you may contact DOVE’s Legal Helpline for assistance at (617) 770-4065 ext. 400


YOUR HOUSING RIGHTS DURING THE CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK

 

It is illegal for a landlord to take away your apartment through “self-help” tactics. Your landlord has used self-help tactics and violated the law if they do any of the following things without a court’s permission:

  • Move your belongings out of your apartment;
  • Change your locks (which is called a “lockout”);
  • Shut off your utilities (which is called a “utility shut-off”); or
  • Interfere in any other way with your use of the apartment.

If your landlord attempts to take away your apartment in any of these ways, they may be violating both civil and criminal laws.

 

What You Can Do

Write a Demand Letter

If your landlord threatens to lock you out or shut off any of your utilities, you may be able to prevent them from taking this illegal action by sending a demand letter. This letter informs them that they will be committing an illegal act and that you will take legal action to enforce your rights if they break the law. See a sample Demand Letter (Form 18).

 

Go to Court

If a landlord locks you out of your apartment or shuts off your utilities, you should immediately go to court to get what is called a temporary restraining order, or “TRO.” You will have to explain that is an emergency in order to get a TRO during the coronavirus outbreak. Tell the Court that you have been locked out of your apartment or your utilities have been shut off and you need an emergency TRO. A TRO tells your landlord to stop doing something illegal and orders them to put you and your belongings back into your apartment and restore any utilities they may have shut off. See a sample Temporary Restraining Order (Form 15).

 

Call the Police and File a Criminal Complaint

If your landlord locks you out of your apartment or shuts off your utilities and you cannot resolve the problem by dealing directly with the landlord, you can call the police and report the incident. Lockouts and utility shut-offs are crimes. A police officer may tell you that such disputes are “civil,” not criminal, matters. This is not true. Lockouts and utility shut-offs are crimes and are punishable by a fine of $25 to $300 or imprisonment of up to 6 months. For more about how to file a criminal complaint, see Chapter 8: Getting Repairs Made – Criminal Complaint.

If you have questions about this and have experienced domestic violence, you may contact DOVE’s Legal Helpline for assistance at (617) 770-4065 ext. 400.

 

WHAT IF I CAN’T PAY MY RENT?

Some agencies may be able to provide rental assistance during the coronavirus outbreak. You may contact the organizations below.

Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT)

  • Metro Housing Boston (Braintree, Brookline, Milton, Quincy): (617) 859-0400
  • RCAP Solutions (Bellingham, Franklin): (978) 630-6600
  • South Middlesex Opportunities Council (Canton, Dedham, Dover, Foxborough, Medfield, Medway, Millis, Norfolk, Norwood, Plainville, Walpole, Wellesley, Westwood, Wrentham): (508) 872-4853

Quincy Community Action Programs: (617) 479-8181

Interfaith Social Services (HomeSafe Program): 617-773-6203 ext. 16

Jewish Family & Children’s Service- Canton: 781-419-6777

United Way COVID-19 Family Support Fund: can be accessed through United Way’s Mass 2-1-1 statewide consumer hotline. Dial 2-1-1.