After years of stalled legislation, housing court expansion has finally occurred in Massachusetts. The recently passed 2018 budget provides for statewide Housing Court, allowing all towns and cities access to a regional division of the Housing Court. Previously, a large segment of Massachusetts towns and cities–including Somerville, Medford, and Chelsea–had no access to a Housing Court division. This Housing Court expansion allows landlords and tenants from any part of the state to have their case heard in Housing Court.
Overview of Housing Court
Massachusetts’s Housing Court can hear cases for matters involving the health, safety, or welfare of the occupants or owners of residential housing. The most common cases in Housing Court are eviction (“summary process”) matters; the Boston Housing Court reportedly hears over 150 new evictions each week. Housing Court functions similarly as any other court in Massachusetts, but comes with the benefit of judges, clerks, and staff who are familiar with housing law.
Transfer to Housing Court
A unique provision of Housing Court is the ability by either party to transfer a case into Housing Court from another court. If you are a tenant in an eviction case filed in District Court (a popular venue for eviction cases), you have a right to have your case transferred to the appropriate Housing Court division. With the Housing Court expansion, this option is now available to all of Massachusetts. A Housing Court transfer is a simple process, requiring the filling out of a simple form with the original court and the appropriate Housing Court division.
Although Housing Court expansion became effective on July 1, 2017 (pursuant to the 2018 budget), this change is not yet reflected on the Housing Court website or in the law itself. The 2018 budget is clear, however, that Housing Court expansion has already occurred. Several eviction cases have already been transferred from District Courts in cities that were not previously under Housing Court jurisdiction, and I expect more to do so in the coming months.
Is Housing Court Right For Your Case?
Housing Court expansion will inevitably lead to tenants and landlords asking whether this court is the place to bring their case. Like with most legal matters, the answer depends. While many argue that Housing Court favors tenants at the expense of landlords, this is too much of a stereotype to label for every Housing Court division in Massachusetts. The decision on whether to pick Housing Court for your case is an important one, which you should make with the assistance of an experienced landlord/tenant attorney.