What is Housing Court in Massachusetts?
Massachusetts has a unique forum for resolving matters involving residential housing: Housing Court. Understanding what is housing court is essential for landlords, tenants, and former homeowners facing an eviction after foreclosure, as Housing Court is a popular forum for resolving these disputes.
Housing Court is a specialty court for matters involving residential housing. Evictions makeup the bulk of the cases filed in these courts, but Housing Court can also hear civil lawsuits, criminal cases, and small claim matters (if they concern housing). A party may file their case directly in Housing Court. Alternatively, a party may transfer their case into Housing Court so long as this is done the day before trial. A transfer to housing court is a simple matter that only requires a party to file a notice of transfer in the court where the case was originally filed, and the appropriate Housing Court. This is commonly done for eviction cases filed in District Court, where the tenant wishes the matter to be heard in the appropriate Housing Court.
Housing Court isn’t available everywhere in Massachusetts. Massachusetts has five Housing Court divisions (Boston Housing Court, Northeast Housing Court, Worcester Housing Court, and Western Housing Court) which cover most of the state. However, there is a large portion of Massachusetts that is not in a geographical jurisdiction of a Housing Court, including many cities in the Greater Boston region (including Somerville, Medford, Revere, and Chelsea). With the exception of Boston Housing Court, Housing Court divisions sit in multiple locations within its geographical jurisdiction. Northeast Housing Court, for example, hears cases in courtrooms in Salem, Lynn, Lowell, and Lawrence. Visit the Housing Court’s website to find out if there is a Housing Court for your dispute.
Housing Court has some important features that make it a good option for resolving housing disputes. Housing Court has trained mediators in each of their courts who can attempt to help resolve disputes in lieu of trial. Mediation is particularly useful for evictions, as the majority of these cases are settled and do not go to trial. District Courts (where evictions are also commonly brought) sometimes have similar mediation services, but these are not always as readily available as the services offered in Housing Court.
Another benefit of Housing Court is having experienced judges who know and understand housing law. Housing law is complex, and it is not uncommon to find judges who aren’t familiar with many of the issues that come up in housing cases. This doesn’t happen in Housing Court: the judges have hear the issues in these cases many times before.
Housing Courts are thought by some to be “tenant friendly”, with a preference towards tenants over landlords (and former homeowners over banks). I personally believe this perception comes from the fact that Massachusetts’s housing laws are consumer orientated and lean in favor of tenants’ rights. From my experience in every single one of the Housing Courts in Massachusetts, I believe a party can get a fair decision on their matter. I do believe, however, that the decision on where to bring a case is an essential decision, and one that an experienced attorney should decide. Although understanding what is Housing Court and the work it does is important for making the best decision for you, this is no replacement for having a trusted attorney by your side. If you have a case in Housing Court, contact me for a consultation.