Housing Court 101

Anyone involved in foreclosure defense needs to understand Massachusetts’s Housing Court and how this specialized forum works for these types of cases.

Housing Court was originally created as a court for housing matters in the City of Boston.  Later, its jurisdiction was expanded to cover others parts of the state.  Currently, there are five divisions of Housing Court in Massachusetts:

  1. Boston Housing Court
  2. Northeast Housing Court
  3. Southeast Housing Court
  4. Worcester Housing Court
  5. Western Housing Court
It is important to note that Housing Court does not cover all parts of Massachusetts.  The cities of Malden, Chelsea, and Revere, for example, are not part of a Housing Court’s jurisdiction (a list of the towns/cities that Housing Court covers can be found here).  A recent proposal by the Judicial Branch would expand Housing Court to all of Massachusetts; a recommendation I fully support.

Housing Court handles most types of housing matters.  For foreclosure defense, the typical cases that come before Housing Court are summary process (eviction) cases, where the foreclosing entity (most often the bank) is seeking possession of the home on the basis of a lawful foreclosure, and the homeowner is permitted to defend against the eviction by challenging the validity of the foreclosure.  Housing Court, like District and Superior Court, has jurisdiction over summary process cases.

A important feature of Housing Court is the ability of any party to transfer a case into Housing Court from another court.  This can be done anytime before the day of trial.  Removing a case to Housing Court is a straightforward matter that merely requires a litigant to file a notice of transfer form with the District (or Superior) Court and the Housing Court department the case is being transferred to.If you are involved in a post-foreclosure summary process case, should you transfer to Housing Court?  My advice: in almost all cases, yes.  Here’s why:

  1. Housing Court has been responsible for many, many favorable decisions for homeowners in post-foreclosure cases.  Housing Court is seen by many to be a pro-homeowner, pro-tenant court.
  2. Housing Court judges are familiar with post-foreclosure summary process cases because they preside over so many of them.  Plus, the odds are really good that the same judge will hear the case from beginning to end, compared to District Court, where the presiding judge may change on a weekly basis.
  3. Housing Court often requires parties to go to mediation.  If you are representing yourself, mediation can be helpful in reaching a settlement (bear in mind, however, that a mediator is not a lawyer and will not provide legal advice.  If you intend to fight your case to the end, you are better off speaking to an attorney).

Overall, the best advantage of Housing Court is knowing who your judge is.  Because the issues in post-foreclosure summary process cases tend not to vary a great deal, there is an excellent chance the judge you will be before has heard the issues in your case before.  That gives you the advantage of knowing how the judge will approach your case, and allows you to proceed accordingly.