By Robert Nislick

You are a Massachusetts landlord and you have a tenant who has violated the lease in some material fashion. It is possible that your tenant has done some or any of the following:

  • made so much noise that it interferes with the quiet enjoyment of other tenants.
  • allowed unauthorized occupants to live in the unit.
  • acted to destroy, deface, damage, impair or remove any part of the premises.
  • obtained the apartment through fraud by providing the landlord with false information on the rental application.
  • kept dogs or other pets without the landlord’s permission.
  • failed to control dogs or other animals on the property.
  • subletted the premises in violation of the lease.
  • chronically paid rent late.

Hopefully, as a landlord, you will not encounter any of these nightmarish scenarios. They do happen, however.

It should be noted that the examples provided above do not include situations where the tenant may be doing things that are even worse, such as using the premises for purposes of prostitution, illegal gaming, illegal sale of alcoholic beverages, illegal keeping, sale, or manufacture of controlled substances, i.e. drugs, or the illegal keeping of a weapon. If the tenant is doing any of these really bad things, then a separate statute, G. L. c. 139, § 19, allows the landlord to void the lease, and seek declaratory and injunctive relief, including the issuance of an execution for possession to be levied upon forthwith.

You decide to evict the tenant for cause. A landlord may terminate a tenancy for cause when the tenant has violated the terms and conditions of the lease or occupancy agreement between the parties. The burden is on the plaintiff to show the alleged lease violations by a preponderance of the evidence. See Hodess v. Bonefont, 401 Mass. 693, 695 (1988).

What kind of notice to quit must the landlord provide to the tenant? If the parties have signed the Greater Boston Real Estate Board Standard Form Apartment Lease, then paragraph 24, “Non-Performance or Breach by Lessee”, allows the landlord to terminate the tenancy by serving a 7-Day Notice to Quit. Seven days notice is sufficient to terminate a tenancy if the lease so provides.

If there is no lease provision that provides for termination for cause on seven-days notice, or if the tenant is a tenant at will, then the landlord will most likely have to provide a thirty-day notice to quit. But if the tenant has also failed to pay rent, then the landlord may decide simply to bring the summary process case after serving a Fourteen Day Notice to Quit for Nonpayment of Rent. There may be reasons why simply bringing the case as a nonpayment case could present problems. Then again, there may be reasons why the landlord should forego terminating the tenancy for cause, and simply evict the tenant for nonpayment of rent. The landlord should seek counsel rather than doing it himself or herself.

Robert Nislick is a Massachusetts landlord-tenant lawyer who practices in Boston Housing Court, Worcester Housing Court, Northeast Housing Court, Southeast Housing Court, Western Housing Court, and the summary process session of the District Court.

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