Move and Store
The “move and store” law can be found in MGL Ch. 239 Section 4, “Storage of property removed; liens and enforcement; penalties.” In a nutshell, the law requires an evicted tenant’s belongings to be transported and stored safely for up to six months..
The law reads, “The plaintiff in the summary process action shall pay the costs of removing the property to the place of storage.” So the landlord pays for moving.
This is a poorly drafted statute, because it mentions moving but not storage. Who pays for the six months of storage?
In the 2010 timeframe, there were only 20 storage facilities operating. It was widespread practice for these storage companies to charge landlords three months’ of storage in addition to the lien they put on evictee’s belongings. (The liens were not perceived as valuable). Until December 2019, this page incorrectly reported that this was required by law (that’s how widespread the practice was). It is not a law that landlords must pay for three months’ storage.
Since 2010, the number of storage sites has increased, this “three months” market custom has dissipated away, and the law remains ambiguous. Someone in the chain of possession has to ensure storage for six months. A storage company may ask for six months’ payment, if they are looking at incoming trash that will never be reclaimed and a worthless lien. Or a storage company may ask for no months’ payment, if they are looking at valuable goods with certain knowledge that the renter will come to pay for storage or that the lien will repay their costs. You will have to call around to different storage companies for different evictions to see what they will charge.
Here is the detailed process:
1. Landlord carries eviction all the way through court.
- The landlord gets a “judgment for possession” and then an “execution” that says the tenant will be forcibly removed.
- A constable or sheriff is hired to deliver appropriate notices, including the selection of a final destination for the tenant’s belongings.
- The final destination must be a warehouse
- bonded, and
- possibly within 20 miles of the rented premises (the law is confusing and we rely on the administrative guidance linked).
- There are (only) dozens of approved locations in the state.
2. Landlord Pays to Schedule the Move
In order to schedule the move, you will have to pay for the movers and for whatever amount of storage the company requires to accept possession.
- Movers usually charge minimums, so even studios may be subject to “two people, four hours each.”
- Insect extermination and other treatments are common up-charges and cannot be avoided.
3. Day of Execution
- If the tenant leaves in the 48 hours between notice and execution, you’re all set. You may request a refund from the movers.
- Most likely, if the tenant doesn’t leave, you or your agent will have to show up at the eviction.
- Also present must be the sheriff or constable and the mover.
- The tenant may request in writing that the mover take their belongings to a different warehouse.
- All belongings must be moved, even if they appear to be trash, unless they represent a blatant health risk.
4. Go Back to Court
After the move-out, you must file another lawsuit against the tenant to recover your money.
The law says, “The plaintiff [landlord] shall be entitled to reimbursement by the defendant for any costs and fees so advanced.”
Good luck collecting. MGL Ch 235 Section 34 says the following cannot be collected:
- Any cash that would cause the tenant to have less than $2,500;
- Any wages that would cause the tenant to dip below 85% of weekly wages or $450/wk ($550/wk by 2017), whichever is greater.
- Any value from public assistance (WIC, Section 8, unemployment, retirement, SSI, disability, etc.).
Most tenants who were just evicted are “judgment proof” and cannot be made to pay either rent owed or the cost of moving and storage
Judges will assume that a tenant receiving public assistance would be giving all of that value to a creditor. You shouldn’t even attempt argue that point. If the tenant receives public assistance, you will not be able to collect.
Money judgments last for 20 years. Wait a while. It’s not unheard of that a tenant will seek to buy their first home, and then the judgment for unpaid rent will appear on their record, preventing them from securing a mortgage. In that case, they will contact you to atone.