On March 10, 2020 Governor Baker declared a state of emergency to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Since then Massachusetts courts have reduced operations and are only open for emergency filings. This means most eviction cases are on hold.
But if your landlord has locked you out or turned off your heat, it is an emergency. Call the court right away.
Find the court that serves your community. See Housing Court Locations
What should I do if my landlord tries to force me out or turns off my heat?
Your landlord must get a court’s permission before they evict you and make you move out. If your landlord does not have permission from a court, it is illegal for your landlord to:
- Move your belongings out of your apartment,
- Change your locks, a "lockout,"
- Shut off your utilities, a "utility shut-off," or
- Interfere in any way with your use of the unit.
If your landlord does any of these things, you have rights and you can take steps to stop them.
A court can impose penalties for these illegal actions, including making your landlord pay you at least 3 months' rent, plus any court costs and attorney's fees.
The Lockout Could Be Legal
Lockouts are sometimes legal. If your co-tenant or roommate told your landlord they need to be protected from you, or if someone in your home has a 209A restraining order that order you to stay away, it may be legal to lock you out.
What If My Landlord Locks Me Out or Shuts Off My Utilities
You may need to take one or more of the following steps. You do not need to do them in this order.
Contact Your Landlord
Tell them, “What you are doing is illegal. I will have to call the police or call the court if you do not let me back in or turn my utilities back on right away.”
Call the Police
If you cannot resolve the problem directly with your landlord, call the police and report what your landlord did.
- A few words from a police officer may be enough to convince your landlord to stop the illegal activity.
- Many police will tell your landlord that locking you out without a court order is against the law and your landlord has to let you back in.
- If a police officer tells you they cannot get involved because your dispute is “civil,” not “criminal,” show them this handout and ask them to call a supervisor to confirm the law.
Call the Court
If your landlord refuses to let you back in or turn your utilities,back on, call the court right away! Tell the clerk you are "facing an emergency." Explain what your landlord has done. Ask the clerk for an order that tells your landlord to stop the illegal activity. The court can order your landlord to allow you back into your apartment and turn your utilities back on.
Eastern Region Legal Intake Helpline
Greater Boston Legal Services
MetroWest Legal Services
South Coastal Counties Legal Services
Northeast Legal Aid
Community Legal Aid
Authors: Molly Lovell - Northeast Legal Aid, Annette Duke and Andrea Park - Massachusetts Law Reform Institute