An important tool exists for landlord-tenant screening, one that is completely free and easy to use. All of Massachusetts’s trial court dockets are online, providing both tenants and landlords with the ability to see filed eviction cases across the state. The website is http://www.masscourts.org.
Eviction (“summary process”) cases are almost always filed in District Court or Housing Court. To use masscourts.org for landlord-tenant screening, you need to search individually for each court. The site doesn’t allow a general search for all trial courts across the state.
However, if you know where the tenant or landlord has resided or owner property (or have a reasonably good idea), you can narrow down the applicable courts. Bear in mind that searches on the site can be sensitive, and slight variations in names may not produce the desired results (the website is not Google!).
Search results will tell you if a case has been brought by or against a particular party, and a history of the case. Search results generally will not provide details on the case, such as the reason(s) for evictions and counterclaims. Information such as this can generally only be obtained by visiting the court and reviewing the case file.
For this reason, masscourts.org isn’t perfect for landlord-tenant screening. However, it is useful for determining if a particular tenant has been frequently evicted, or if a landlord has often been subject to complaints from tenants.
An important word of caution, from someone who represents landlords and tenants: don’t assume the worst because a party has been involved in an eviction case. Tenants are sometimes named in eviction cases for no-fault reasons, such as the adult children of parents who are being evicted. Likewise, claims can be raised against a landlord that aren’t really meritorious, and are only meant to be a “delay” tactic. In short, while masscourts.org is helpful for landlord-tenant screening, it should never be the only deciding factor in selecting a tenant or landlord.
If you need assistance with a landlord-tenant matter, contact me for a consultation.