Judgments Against Tenants

We’ve taken it upon ourselves to summarize the data that’s publicly available at MassCourts.org.

This page is outdated.

Latest study here.

Key Findings

The table below summarizes the case-by-case data. Although the research is ongoing, we believe the following preliminary conclusions are supported by the trend in the data:

  • Ninety-nine percent of summary process judgments are awarded to the landlord.
  • The average judgment is $2,577, or in Worcester, three months’ rent (n = 2,751).
  • The average economic loss to the Commonwealth is $569,082 per housing court per month (measured over three courts and four months).
CourtMonth endingOpen casesClosed casesCases with
agreement for judgment
Cases with judgmentNum. cases found in favor of landlordin favor of tenantAvg judgmentTotal judgments
Boston9/30/20145451761760$2,371$414,994
Boston10/31/20143811201200$2,471$296,499
Boston7/31/20142421461610$3,236$197,425
Boston8/31/20143332089890$3,467$308,606
Southeast9/30/20145440163773770$2,691$1,014,576
Southeast10/31/20144640202982980$2,535$752,967
Southeast8/31/2014532023963951$2,221$879,328
Southeast7/31/2014491043333330$2,486$827,918
Worcester9/30/20145332262251$2,371$531,071
Worcester10/31/2014469941721720$2,148$369,391
Worcester8/31/2014489632452432$2,598$636,443
Worcester7/31/2014473412582580$2,325$599,769

Next steps:

  • We will continue the research to cover additional months and courts.
  • Experienced landlords tend to agree with the following statement: “few judgments are ever collected.” In Phase II we intend to ask landlords who have received judgments to quantify, on a case-by-case basis, how much was collected.
  • There are 62 district courts across the Commonwealth. We intend to continue the research to see if the housing court trend extends to district courts.

Methodology

Research started in May, 2014. We hired a small team of independent professionals to review court cases on case-by-case basis. For Phase I, the professionals were asked to look for closed housing court cases filed under “summary process” (aka eviction). They were asked to focus on three courts: Worcester Housing Court, Boston Housing Court, and Southeast Housing Court. For each case, they recorded the disposition from the docket information. If a judgment was awarded, they noted to whom and in what amount.

It was observed that no cases in the Southeast Housing Court were closed even though judgments were awarded. In this court only, we recorded those judgments even if they were open.

Phase II will involve polling landlords to determine what percent of judgments are collected.

Preliminary Recommendations

  1. Some are considering expanding the housing court system. One goal of expansion is to reduce the workload on district courts, which also try summary process cases. An alternative to expanding housing court may be to reduce the case load:
    1. A workforce training grant (or similar) made available to landlords could improve landlord communication skills. Although landlords are only one half of the equation, we know of many instances where good landlords could avoid court — even when a tenant had no money to pay rent — by being good communicators.
    2. Another idea would be to mandate that rent be paid into an escrow account during a habitability dispute. Under the current law, a tenant can run out of money to pay rent, be served an eviction notice, and then claim that a habitability issue was the real reason for not paying rent. These kinds of tactics serve only to delay proceedings into the “free rent trick.” This loophole would be closed and more cases moved forward if rent escrow were mandatory.
  2. Further Research: The judgment totals in the Southeast court may be materially higher than in either Worcester or Boston. A reporter investigating the matter, who contacted us for more information, believes the case load is actually much higher there. The causes for this should be better understood.

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