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I am a Domestic Violence survivor. Can I get evicted?

Produced by Community Legal Aid and Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Created June, 2020

Massachusetts has an eviction moratorium. Most people cannot get evicted in Massachusetts before:

  • August 18, 2020, or 
  • Until 45 days after the Governor lifts the state of emergency,

whichever comes first.  This is called the eviction moratorium.

But you can get evicted if you risk the health and safety of someone else by:

  • Getting involved in criminal activity, or,
  • Violating your lease.

During the COVID-19 emergency, the courts are only hearing “essential” evictions.  If your landlord believes you are risking the health and safety of others, they can file an “essential” eviction case.  Your landlord must file an Affidavit for Cause that says you are a risk to the health and safety of others.  If the court believes your landlord, you will get a written notice of when and how a trial will be held.  Court hearings are held over the telephone or by video conference.  If your landlord files an “essential” eviction case, file an answer right away.

If your landlord sends you a notice to quit or files an eviction case against you

Call Legal Aid. Contact The Civil Legal Aid for Victims of Crime Initiative (CLAVC).  A CLAVC lawyer may be able to help.

If your landlord tries to evict you for risking the health and safety of others

If your landlord tries to evict you because of your abuser’s behavior, you may have a defense. You are not responsible for the actions of the person who abused youThese protections apply to all victims and survivors of domestic violence or abuse.  They apply to all genders, sexes, and gender expressions.

File a Motion to Dismiss and an Answer right away if you are served with:

  • A Summary Process Summons and Complaint,
  • A Temporary Restraining Order, or,
  • Anything from the court asking to remove you from your home.

Motion to Dismiss because the case is not an Essential Eviction

Fill out a Motion to Dismiss for no Essential Eviction.  Call the court clerk’s office and ask how they want you to send it.  They may tell you to email it. Send your landlord or their lawyer a copy.  You can email it to your landlord’s lawyer.

The motion asks the judge to stop the eviction case.  It says the facts in your case are not “an exception to the eviction moratorium.”  When you talk to the judge, tell them:

  1. The court should not hear the case because there is an eviction moratorium.  And
  2. You are not a threat to the health and safety of others.

Your answer

Fill out an answer form.

In your answer, explain that:

  1. You did not damage property.
  2. You were not involved in criminal activity.
  3. You are a survivor of domestic violence. And
  4. You are not responsible for the actions of the person who abused you.
  5. List your other defenses.

Defenses

Discrimination: If the landlord tries to evict you because your abuser was violent, Fair Housing and Anti-Discrimination laws may protect you if you are a female survivor of domestic violence.  These laws protect people from sex discrimination.  These laws apply to most types of housing so it probably protects you even if you rent from a private landlord. 

Retaliation: You may have a defense for retaliation if the landlord tries to evict you for:  

  • Asking to change the locks,
  • Trying to get a restraining order, or
  • Reporting domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking.

If you live in federal housing

If you are a survivor, your landlord cannot evict you because of domestic violence or issues directly related to the domestic abuse. See Domestic Violence in Housing.

Your housing provider can split your tenancy.  They can remove the abuser, and not evict you.

Or, you can ask for an emergency transfer.  You would move to an available unit.  You can also ask for a transfer if you live in state public housing.  See Types of Transfers.

Federal Housing Programs

Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers

Section 8 project-based housing

Section 202 housing for the elderly

Section 811 housing for people with disabilities Section 236 multifamily rental housing

Section 221(d)(3) BMIR

HOME

Federal Housing Programs Covered by VAWA

Housing Opportunities for Persons w/ AIDS (HOPWA) McKinney-Vento Act homelessness programs (e.g., CoC, Emergency Solutions Grants) Housing Trust Fund (by HUD regulation)

USDA Rural Development Multifamily Housing Low-Income Housing Tax Credit

Landlords with federally backed mortgages

Find out if your landlord has a federally backed mortgage loan from Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae or look for your home on this spreadsheet

If you live in federal housing, a survivor can still be evicted for:

  • Serious or repeated lease violations unrelated to the domestic abuse, or,
  • If the Housing Authority can prove they are in actual or imminent danger that cannot be overcome. 

See Information for victims of abuse in federal public housing.

See Domestic Violence.

Remember:

If you are a survivor of Domestic Violence, you may have defenses to stop an eviction. 

During the eviction moratorium, your landlord must prove:

  • The eviction is essential, and
  • That you or your behaviors are risking other tenant’s health and safety. 

If you get any eviction notice from your landlord or your landlord’s attorney, call legal aid

If you get an eviction notice call Legal Aid. Contact The Civil Legal Aid for Victims of Crime Initiative (CLAVC).  A CLAVC lawyer may be able to help.

If you are in immediate fear for your physical safety, you can file ask a Judge to remove the abuser from your home.  See Asking the court for a restraining order or harassment prevention order during COVID-19.

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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