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Deciding whether to go to court

Produced by Gary Allen
Reviewed October, 2021

wait to see judge icon courtesy of graphicadvocacy.org

Before you go to court, think:



  • Are there other ways to fix my problem without going to court?
  • What can the court do?
  • What do I want the court to do?
  • Do I have a good case?
  • Will your landlord sue you in the same action?
  • Do you need, and can you get an attorney?

Can you fix your problem outside of court?

Court cases can be lengthy, expensive, time-consuming, and emotionally draining. You can try to solve the problem outside of court:

If you have bad conditions in your apartment:

  • Write to your landlord asking them to make repairs. See MADE: Up To Code
  • Have you contacted your city or town’s Board of Health or Inspectional Services? See, Getting a Landlord to Make Repairs
  • Have you met with other tenants to discuss taking group action?
  • Should you withhold rent or use the "repair and deduct" law?
  • Are there community groups in your area that work with tenants needing assistance?

If you owe rent,

If your landlord owes you your security deposit,

What a Court Can Do

  • The judge may order your landlord to do things like:
    • fix bad conditions,
    • turn on the heat,
    • fix the plumbing.
    • Let you back into your apartment, if your landlord locked you out.
  • Pay you money to compensate you for harm you suffered.
  • Order a temporary landlord called a “receiver” to make repairs and manage the property. See Getting Repairs Made – Receivership.
  • Order your landlord to pay a fine or go to jail, but only if your landlord broke a criminal law.

What court do I go to?

Usually you will go to Housing Court or District Court

Find the housing court where you live.

If your apartment has bad conditions

See, Bad Conditions: Getting your landlord to make repairs

If your landlord owes you your security deposit

File a Small Claims case in Housing Court, District Court or the Boston Municipal Court if your case is for less  than $7,000. See, Protecting your security deposit.

Criminal Cases

If your landlord commits a crime, contact the police right away. Crimes include entering your apartment without your permission, cutting off your utilities, locking you out, or attacking you. Ask the police to file a criminal complaint.  They will give you the name and address of the court who will hear the case. See, Grounds for filing a criminal complaint

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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