Eviction basics and Notices to Quit

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Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

To evict you, a landlord must get permission from a court to force you to leave your rented apartment or home. They can’t lock you out, throw your things out on the street, or harass you to pressure you to leave. If your landlord doesn’t take the right steps, you can stop the eviction. 

In most cases, before a landlord can take you to court to try to evict you, they must send you a paper called a "Notice to Quit.” You do not have to move out by the date in the Notice to Quit

What steps must a landlord take to evict me?

The following is an overview of a legal eviction, including what steps your landlord must take. These steps are specific to Housing Court—the procedure may be different in District Court.  

  1. In most cases, your landlord must give you a Notice to Quit that tells you: 
    1. when your landlord wants you to move out, and 
    2. the reason your landlord wants you to move out.

      You do not have to move out by the date on a Notice to Quit, but do not ignore it. 
  2. Sometimes, you can work things out when you get a Notice to Quit. For example, if you are behind on rent and you pay all of your rent by a certain date, you can stop a non-payment of rent eviction.   
  3. If the landlord decides to continue with the eviction, they must file a Complaint with the court.
  4. After filing the Complaint, the landlord must first have a constable or sheriff give you a Summary Process (Eviction) Summons and Complaint. This starts a legal process where they try to get permission to force you to leave your home. This Complaint will notify you of the court (Housing or District Court) and the reason for the eviction. It will not list a court date.
  5. Court schedules a date, time, and place (at least 30 days after filing) for both you and the landlord to come to Court for a mandatory mediation (either in person or virtually, depending on the court). 

    The landlord must serve this notice on you using a Sheriff or Constable at least 14 days before the scheduled court date. If you do not show up on time, you will automatically lose the case. In housing court, this is called “Notice of First-Tier Court Event.” The mediation is conducted in person by the housing specialist. In district court, this is called a Case Management Conference. This is usually held virtually by a judge, with referrals to non-court mediators available.
  6. Court proceedings begin. You have a right to defend yourself against your landlord’s claims and present your case to a judge or jury, although most cases are resolved through agreements.

    The first thing you must do is "answer" the complaint in writing to tell the court why you should not have to move. See How to file an Answer. The answer is due 3 business days before the first time you are called to court for mediation. After this, you could have a hearing in front of a judge or jury. Or, you could reach an agreement with your landlord.
  7. Your case ends.
What steps can I take to stop an eviction?

Every eviction is different. Your options depend on your situation.

  • Try to get legal help: You may be able to get free legal help. Some courts have volunteer lawyers who can help you fill out forms. Ask the clerk how to find the volunteer lawyers. Get the contact information for clerks in housing courts and in district courts. Go to the Court Service Center for help with filling out the forms.
  • File your Answer and other court papers with the court: If you cannot get legal help, you will need to represent yourself. How to file an Answer has information about what forms to file and will help you file your Answer form.
  • Get important documents ready: Before your hearing, collect the documents you need to prove your case, like rent receipts or pictures of bad conditions. Use the Checklist: What to Bring to Court in Booklet 1.

There are more steps you can take if you get a Summons and Complaint.

What if I am being evicted from a foreclosed property?

There are special rules in eviction cases that happen after a foreclosure. If your landlord became the owner of the property because of a foreclosure, see Legal Tactics, Chapter 18: Tenants and Foreclosure.

What if I am being evicted from public housing?

Tenants in public housing may have additional rights through a grievance procedure, before a housing authority files a Complaint in court. See Grievances in Public Housing.

What are the reasons a landlord can evict me?

Non-payment of rent

Your landlord can evict you if you didn't pay your rent.

Your landlord must send you a special form with the Notice to Quit in Non-Payment of Rent cases. This form tells you what help you can get to stop an eviction. If your landlord doesn’t give you this form, it is against the law for them to file a non-payment eviction case in court. You may be able to stop the eviction.

Fault eviction (Violation of Lease)

A violation of a lease term could relate to:

  • allowing people who are not on the lease live in the home,
  • smoking,  
  • noise,  
  • pets,  
  • criminal activity, or  
  • any other terms in your lease.  

This may also be called a “cause” eviction.  

No-fault eviction

This means that you didn't do anything wrong, but the landlord does not want to rent to you anymore. Landlords often start no-fault evictions when they would like to:

  • sell the property, 
  • renovate the property, 
  • have relatives move in, or 
  • increase the rent when you have not agreed to the rent increase.

No-fault eviction is also called a “no-cause” eviction. One reason for a no-fault eviction is the expiration (end) of a fixed-term lease.

What if my landlord didn’t give a reason in the Notice to Quit? 

If a landlord is evicting you for non-payment or a violation of your lease, the Notice must include a reason for your eviction. If it does not, it is a “defective” Notice to Quit. 

What is a Notice to Quit?

A Notice to Quit is a legal paper that tells you:

  1. to move out by a certain date, and
  2. the reason why your landlord is evicting you.

Notices to Quit are also called “Termination of Tenancy,” “Notice to Vacate,” and “Eviction Notice.” 

You do not have to move out by the date on the Notice to Quit.

The purpose of a Notice to Quit is to warn you that your landlord wants to evict you. This is only the first step. You have the right to “correct the issue” for certain reasons the landlord gives for planning to evict you. For example, if you pay the rent you owe to your landlord by a certain time, you can stop a “non-payment of rent” eviction.

If your lease has expired or you are otherwise a tenant at sufferance, your landlord can begin an eviction case in court without giving you a Notice to Quit.

If you don’t move out and the landlord still wants you to leave, they must ask the court for permission to evict you. You must receive a Summons & Complaint if your landlord goes to court.  

How much time do I have before my landlord can go to court?

Your Notice to Quit states a specific time period called "the notice period." The notice period tells you how long you have until your landlord can go to court. The number of days depends on the reason for eviction, your lease (if you have one), and your type of tenancy.    

If you have a lease, you are considered a tenant with a lease. If you do not have a lease, but you do have your landlord's permission to live you in your apartment, you are a tenant at will. See Types of Tenancy to learn more.  

Reason for Eviction

Type of Tenancy

Notice Period

When landlord is able to send you a notice

Non-payment of rent

tenants with a lease         

tenants at will

14-Day NoticeAny day of month


tenants at will 30-Day Notice (or rental period) At least 30 days or 1 full rental period in advance, whichever is longer


Fault or other violation


tenants at will30-Day Notice (or rental period)At least 30 days or 1 full rental period in advance, whichever is longer
tenants with a lease Lease term controls notice period (often 7-days) Determined by lease

Illegal activity 

tenants with a lease

tenants at will

No noticeN/A

If your tenancy is subsidized or governmentally regulated, there may be different time periods from the chart above.  

For example 

If your rent is due monthly on the 1st of the month, and your landlord says in the notice that they want to terminate your tenancy by September 1, you must receive the Notice to Quit in writing on or before August 1. If you do not receive the notice until August 2, it is invalid and you cannot be evicted based on it. 

If your landlord accuses you of illegal activity in your apartment, try to get a lawyer before you say anything in court.

What if I never got a Notice to Quit?

If you never got a Notice to Quit, then your eviction may be illegal. See Legal Tactics, Chapter 12: Evictions for more information.

If you stay beyond the end of a lease term, your landlord does not need to send you a Notice to Quit before filing for eviction.

What can I do after I get a Notice to Quit?
  • Write down how and when you received the Notice to Quit and keep the Notice in a safe place.
  • Check if the Notice follows the law. Any problem with the Notice or how it was served might help you defend against the eviction.
  • Check the reason for eviction on the Notice. The reason is important because possible next steps and ways for you to prevent the eviction depend on why the landlord is evicting you.
  • If the eviction is for “non-payment of rent,” you can pay the rent owed and may be able to “cure" the non-payment of rent. This can stop the eviction from going any further.
  • If you are unable to pay the rent owed, apply for rental assistance.  
  • Look out for a Summons and Complaint.
  • Try to get legal help.

Remember – you do not have to move out by the date on the Notice to Quit.  

What steps can I take if I get a Summons and Complaint?

If you get a Summons and Complaint, this means that your landlord has started an eviction case in court. Do not ignore these papers!

If you do not go to your court hearing or mediation, you will automatically lose your case. This is called “default.”  

The following options can help you avoid default:

  • File an Answer. 
    The most important document that you should file after you get a Summons and Complaint is the Answer form. The Answer form will explain to the court why you should not be evicted. It can include any complaints you have about your landlord. Don’t miss the deadline to file your Answer. The deadline is on the court notice of the First Court Event. Learn how to file an Answer.
  • Request a transfer.
    You can transfer your case to housing court.
  • Ask for information to prepare for your case.
    When you file your Answer form, you can also file court papers that ask your landlord for information to help you prepare your case. This is called discovery.
  • Pay the rent owed.
    You can “cure the non-payment of rent” by a certain time before your hearing. This will stop the eviction from going any further.
  • Ask the judge to dismiss the case.  
    If your landlord has not followed the right steps, you may be able to get your case dismissed. To do this, you should file a Motion to Dismiss. This is when a judge throws out your case and court proceedings stop. 
  • Negotiate an agreement.
    Most landlords and tenants resolve evictions through agreements. Be careful when you negotiate an Agreement. Only sign an Agreement if you understand it, you believe it is fair, and if you can do what it says.  
  • Apply for rental assistance.
    State and local rental assistance programs may be able to help you pay any back rent you owe to your landlord. If financial hardship caused you to fall behind on rent and that is the reason for your eviction case, it is very important to apply for rental assistance. If you have a rental assistance application pending with an agency, the court cannot order your eviction until after the agency tells you if you are eligible for help or not.
  • Contact the Tenancy Preservation Program.
    If the eviction is related to a physical or mental health disability you have, the Housing Court’s Tenancy Preservation Program can help you request a reasonable accommodation to keep the tenancy going.

You may be able to get free legal help. If you can't get a lawyer to represent you, many Housing Courts have free lawyers and other employees who can help you through Lawyer for the Day Programs. You can ask to talk to them before mediation or at any point in the process. The Court Service Center can also help you fill out court forms.

When is it illegal for a landlord to try to evict me?

It is illegal for a landlord to:

  • Get back at you for speaking up about your housing rights protected by law. For example: asking your landlord in writing to make repairs, participating in tenant organizing activities, or reporting your landlord to health inspectors or other officials. It is also illegal for a landlord to evict you because you called the police or got a restraining order due to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
  • Evict you because of your race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, genetic information, ancestry, marital status, disability, or status as a veteran. It is also illegal for a landlord to evict you because you get a rent subsidy or public benefits. Your landlord is discriminating against you if they subject you to unwanted sexual attention or harassment. If you feel that your landlord is evicting you for any of these reasons, see Discrimination
  • Try to take away your apartment through "self-help" tactics. Your landlord has used self-help tactics and broken the law if they do any of the following without a court's permission:
    • Move your belongings out of your apartment,
    • Change your locks,
    • Shut off your utilities, or
    • Intentionally make it harder for you to use your apartment.

For more information about illegal evictions, see When is Eviction Illegal? 

How do I know if my eviction case is over?

The eviction case resolves when one of the following happens:

  • You win the case
  • You lose the case, and an eviction order is entered against you.
  • The case is dismissed.
  • You and your landlord reach an agreement.

Either side can appeal a final judgement within 10 calendar days. If that happens, a court-ordered eviction action may be paused during the appeal.

This article is an overview. For more detailed information, see Legal Tactics, Chapter 12: Evictions.


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