One of the goals of this blog is to help clear up many of the myths in Massachusetts landlord-tenant law. One such myth which is particularly prevalent is the idea that a landlord cannot evict a tenant within six months of the tenant making a complaint to an Inspectional Services Department or Health Department. That is an incorrect reading of the law.
Massachusetts law (MGL 239, Section 2A) holds that if a landlord commences eviction proceedings within six months of a tenant exercising a protected right, such as making a complaint to the local inspectional services department, there will be a rebuttable presumption that the eviction is in retaliation for exercising the right. What that means is that if a landlord takes action to evict a tenant within six months of the tenant exercising that right, the court will assume that the action is taken in retaliation for the exercise of that right. But, that assumption can be rebutted, or overcome, by a showing by clear and convincing evidence that the reason for eviction is independent of the exercise of the protected right.
Here’s an example- I once had a case where my client’s son lived in the property with his girlfriend. When they broke up, the now ex-girlfriend wouldn’t leave. The ex-girlfriend made a complaint to the local Health Department. We served a notice to quit 2-3 months after the complaint to the Health Department. At the summary process trial, the ex-girlfriend argued that the serving of the notice to quit was in retaliation for the complaint to the Health Department. After trial on the matter, the court ruled in favor of my client on all counts, including the retaliation count. The court held that there was an independent, non-retaliatory reason for my client moving to evict her- she was the ex-girlfriend.
So, what does this mean? It means, in its simplest terms, you need to be able to prove your case. If you’re evicting a tenant because of smoking, you need to be able to prove that. If you’re evicting a tenant because the tenant is interfering with repairs or pest extermination, you need to be able to prove that. In short, if your reason for eviction is proper, you should be fine. Make sure, though, that you consult with an attorney well-versed in landlord-tenant law, to give yourself the best chance to prove your case.