Massachusetts Eviction Data and Housing Court Statistics

As of May 2020, MassLandlords now compiles eviction data monthly. The Massachusetts eviction process is called “summary process.” It is not legal for a landlord to evict a renter without filing for “summary process.” These filings are a public record and can be inspected in detail or in aggregate by anyone. The eviction data we are now compiling add detail to the Massachusetts Trial Court statistics released each fiscal year. For instance, the trial courts show total summary process filings each year. MassLandlords now compiles total filings by division by month.

Since December 2020, MassLandlords has published weekly housing court eviction data reports. The eviction data reports are split into two categories:

  • Filings: Staff read dockets for recently filed cases; and
  • Outcomes: Staff read dockets for cases filed approximately 18 months ago.

graph of massachusetts summary process filings data through september 2021

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Filings are not Forced Move-outs

Note that summary process is the legal term for the court procedure where a landlord requests enforcement of a rental agreement. The overwhelming majority of summary process actions end without an eviction, or a forced move-out. For instance, many landlords and renters mediate in court and agree to a payment plan. Other mediated agreements might include a voluntary (non-forced) move-out at a mutually agreeable date in the future, sometimes months or a year after. Note also that a host of individuals intervene with the purpose of preventing forced move-outs. Help comes from Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), the Tenancy Preservation Program (TPP), and even judges themselves when they enforce the law on sanitary code conditions, security deposits, and much more.

The confusion between forced move-outs and summary process actions has been worsened by misreporting. As an example of such misreporting, we detailed the Boston Globe’s carelessness in “Global (Over)Reach: Boston Globe Stokes Eviction Fear with Falsehoods,” April 19, 2019.

Summary process filings result in a forced move-out only about 10% of the time.

Note that these data do not consider non-judicial resolution. For instance, “cash for keys” is a lawful non-judicial resolution for which we have little data. In a “cash for keys” arrangement, the landlord and the renter agree to part ways without the need for legal assistance. To give another example, “lockouts” would be an unlawful non-judicial resolution. Every lockout can be reversed by law enforcement. (If you believe you have been locked out of your apartment by your landlord, call the police.)

This eviction data includes only court procedures.

Filing Reports

We read cases within one week of filing.

Filing reports by week

2020

2021

Filing reports by month

Filing reports by quarter

2021

Outcomes Reports

We read cases 18 months after filing to be sure that at least 90% of cases read will have been resolved.

2019

2020

What Kinds of Questions Can These Massachusetts Eviction Data Reports Answer?

MassLandlords eviction data reports can answer policy questions like:

  • How many adults are in each defendant household? (Answer: ~Two-thirds of households are single adult.)
  • Why are these households being taken to court? (Answer: ~80% of cases are about non-payment of rent).
  • What percent of landlords are required to hire an attorney? (Answer: ~75% of landlords are corporations required to hire an attorney).
  • Where are these households? (Answer: Before the pandemic, gentrifying neighborhoods. After the pandemic, gateway cities.)
  • What percent of filings result in a forced move-out? (Answer: < 10%).
  • How frequently does mediation result in an agreement? (Answer: ~50% of the time).
  • How long do evictions take? (Answer: Court duration, excluding time before and after court, is ~30 days.)
  • How much money does an average household lack when they get removed for non-payment? (Pre-pandemic answer: ~$2,500)

What Kinds of Questions Can These Massachusetts Eviction Data Reports Not Answer?

  • Has this applicant for my apartment ever been filed against? (We currently do not report on individual renter names.)
  • What are common terms and conditions of mediated agreements? (We do not read case attachments.)
  • Where do renters go if they are forcibly removed? (The courts do not follow up with renters.)
  • How large are these landlords? (Landlord ownership count is not tracked by the courts.)

Landlords Have More Attorneys by (Unwanted) Law

Per Massachusetts case law, any landlord using a corporate entity (LLC, Trust, etc.) must hire an attorney. Our data indicate that when given the choice, more than half of landlords are small enough that they do not want to hire an attorney.

The difference between landlords and renters is not as great as between, say, credit card companies and debtors. Big banks and financial institutions all get lawyers, but people with credit card debt do not. If the taxpayers are to fund a civil right to counsel, we propose this might be better started with debt collection than housing. Landlords are mostly ordinary people and we don't want to have the expense of hiring an attorney. The playing field in housing court can be leveled much more thoroughly for much less expense by de-escalating the lawyer arms race and applying public funds to rental subsidies rather than lawyers. 80% of cases are about non-payment of rent.

Our free solution to more equal representation: Start by letting officers of LLC's represent their LLC.

Previous Eviction Data: Eviction Study for Massachusetts Part One

In 2016, MassLandlords published “Eviction Study for Massachusetts Part One”, a detailed assessment of 8,000 cases filed in Housing Court in 2014. This study of eviction data produced several key findings. There were statistically significant differences in the length, and therefore the cost, of evictions in Housing Court vs. District Court. For instance, a case filed in District Court was 30% more likely to end before an unpaid rent judgment reached $1,500, whereas a case filed in Housing Court was 18% more likely to accrue over $10,000 in unpaid rent.

The study controverted a then-frequent renter advocate refrain. Advocates used to say that evictions could be accomplished in as little as seven days, intending to argue that evictions were not lengthy. The eviction study clearly demonstrated that the average court time was 38 days, with the longest being one year, three months, two weeks and two days before the landlord was finally awarded possession. The seven-day eviction timeframe applied only to mediated agreements for judgment.

The study placed court duration in the context of notice and repair time, which for a landlord adds to length of an eviction above and beyond court time.

The cost and delay associated with a court eviction mean that most mom and pop landlords attempt to negotiate with renters rather than filing for eviction.

See Also

External Links

Past Presentations

Webinar: Massachusetts COVID Eviction Filings So Far


COVID Election Filings

Presenter:

Douglas Quattrochi - Doug

Host:

Naomi Richardson - Naomi

[Start 0:00:00]

Presentation

Doug: All right, we’ll get started here. ty1 for joining us this afternoon, this webinar.

Just a quick technical note. Everyone loads into the webinar on mute. If you've arranged to say something in advance, you can raise your hand and our technical hosts will get you a chance to speak. I’m not aware of that scheduled for this event. Best way to ask a question or contribute something is to use the Q&A feature on Zoom, which allows you to ask a question which will stay there until it's answered.

Note that it may be possible for others to see your question. The chat is disabled. you can chat with the panelists, but Q&A is the best way to get in touch with us here and that will help us to stay organized as well rather than chatting questions to the panelists.

Just before we get started some quick facts about MassLandlords.

We are a 501(c)6 nonprofit trade association. Our mission is to create better rental housing in Massachusetts by helping owners run profitable or I should say income-generating really compliant quality businesses. We need to be profitable or generate income in order to provide housing year after year. We need to follow all the laws to be effective advocates to change them and we want to be proud to be associated with one another here. We are democratically governed. We have an annual election for the board of directors and ongoing policy priority survey. We have growing impact with over 2 000 dues-paying members, 6,000 subscribers, and 300,000 site visitors for our free educational content. So here's a picture of lots of folks besides MassLandlords. The staff that you see most frequently at these events lots of folks work behind the scenes.

This afternoon we're going to go through this technical interview. It’s going to conclude just shortly. We've got two hosts working with us, Naomi and Jillian who are going to help us to make sure all the questions get answered and even if I don't address one live we're going to be recording these questions and dealing with them afterwards and also the whole webinar is recorded as well, so you'll be able to watch this if you have to drop or someone you know wanted to see part of it just give us some time to post-process the video and get it up on the site.

With that we'll start the main content of the presentation. This is about Massachusetts COVID Eviction Filings so far. My name is Doug Quattrochi. I’m the executive director of MassLandlords. I’m not an attorney, but I am knowledgeable how the legal process works and certainly I expect we'll have some attorneys here in the call. Anytime I say anything wrong, feel free to chime in. The road to the truth is not a straight shot, so we're trying to do the best we can here, but obviously if there's anything you see that doesn't make sense ask about it. We can talk about it.

At this webinar we're going to be talking about evictions and what we really mean by that is summary process filings, so there's a kind of national context about what it means to have an eviction and then there's a Massachusetts context. We're going to explain that difference. I’m going to start with some key findings and recommendations, just to kind of put a point to what this event is all about here so you know where we're headed.

The recommendations won't seem justified at this early point in the webinar but by the end of this by one o'clock hopefully it will make sense to you. We'll cover the where and the why and the how and who's doing this and all the process, the methodology. We'll give you some legal terminology if you're not familiar with how the eviction process works so that you can basically have some framework for what we're talking about.

Then we're going to look at a couple different data sets that we can draw on. The first one is from the April-May 2019 timeframe, not 2020 but before there was any pandemic, just the normal housing crisis or normal housing crisis. Then we're going to compare that to everything that's happened since the state moratorium lifted effectively October 18th and we can look at all kinds of things that are visible in the public record.

At the end of this, I will re-summarize. We anticipate having about five minutes for live questions, I can say over if it  looks like there's a lot: otherwise we'll address everything via email when we can broadcast to everybody afterwards.

Let me lead off with what we propose are the key findings from our research.

First, nonpayment is the cause of 70 percent to 80 percent of all eviction filings in Massachusetts. Second, two-thirds of all cases are either single adults or single head of household, meaning you've got one adult and there's some number of children. We'll talk about this later but children should not be named and cannot be named in the court records, so if you see a defendant named it's going to be an adult. Also if there's any intent to proceed with a case, all adults have to be named. The number of defendants that you see is clearly a number of adults so we can answer that. I’ll explain how in a second.

[0:05:02]

Fewer than 25 percent of all these filings, all the cases that get filed in court actually result in an execution being issued. Execution is the technical term for sheriff or constable formally removes someone from the rented premises. Fewer than 25 and based on what the court data show, we can only know a few of those issued executions are actually levied and returned, so a lot of executions that are issued not actually carried out. We know that that's less than five percent so I’ll explain what that implication is in a second. Then finally, a really significant implication for folks who work in housing stabilization of all the known levied executions, 94 percent of them essentially all of them are because a renter failed to follow through on a mediated agreement or because they defaulted, meaning they failed to show up at court at a critical juncture, That is an extremely significant finding.

Let me just give you some at this point unmotivated recommendations that will give you an idea of where we're headed as we go through all this data. First of all, looking at nonpayment being the cause of so many filings, we can state pretty confidently that poverty and inequality are the drivers of eviction filings. Obviously if you can intervene early, you can prevent anyone from being filed against. Given the large number of single adult or a single head of household defendants, we will recommend that we need to do something to make it easier to rent individual rooms or to roommates. There's a lot of work that has to be done to rebuild the housing stock obviously, but a lot of the barriers to using the existing old large bedroom count housing stock our administrative, so we don't have to rebuild to make better use of the housing we have.

Given that so few filings represent an actual issue of execution, you can state confidently that if you end up in housing court the likeliest outcome is not that you're going to be  evicted. It’s that something else is going to happen. You're going to get access to rental subsidy or there's going to be immediate agreement or something like that. You're not going to be forcibly removed.

Then based on of course the even smaller number that we know definitely have been levied. It looks like a lot of folks do end up moving out on their own potentially. It’s about 10 of filings is what we estimate and I’ll justify that estimate later and compare it against some other data sources to kind of ground that.

Finally given how many of these known levied executions are actually a result of default or failure to follow through a mediated agreement, there's some clear implications for where housing stability advocates should be focused. I’m not at all saying that this is not being done currently but it's encouragement to continue doing it, get the parties to show up to hearings, find what would be an achievable mediated agreement and only sign achievable agreements. Get rental subsidies very quickly to people so that mediation can be impactful and there's real power to the promise of future repayment.

Then this one may not get enough attention publicly but once the mediated agreement is signed, the job is not done and it's very important to help renters follow through with that so. These recommendations as I said are not justified; but let me take you through the logic and that will lead us to hopefully an understanding of where these come from.

First, by way of comparison. MassLandlords is going to present at this webinar novel data. This has never been published before, certainly not in this format, to the best of our knowledge and we're not the only source of synthesis for Massachusetts eviction filings. For instance, the trial courts themselves have a very useful dashboard, which shows a different type of analysis than what we're going to look at here today and that's freely available online. You can check that out.

Similarly, apart from the judicial branch of the state government, the executive branch has a dashboard related to rental subsidy applications and grants. This is for the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition program, RAFT, and that clearly shows a climbing number of applications granted an increasing amount of rental subsidy going out.

Now there's a tab on the executive branch dashboard called RAFT IRMA application pipeline, which is not live yet last I checked as of an hour or so ago, but we expect that to show 2 000 applications for rental assistance a week. If i just flip back quickly to the court dashboard, it's about 700 cases per week that are being filed, so if there are about 2,000 rental assistance applications a week, there could have potentially been by this point about three times as many court filings. What one state official said is that landlords seem to be showing admirable restraint. Actually he said, are showing, and I think that's generally true. We'll see that and we'll look at what's happening with the subsidies versus the actual cases.

[0:10:17]

Now when I talk about cases, what do I mean in particular? We're talking about Massachusetts evictions, so the entire Commonwealth including the islands, West, East everywhere. There are three study periods that the MassLandlords team have been able to draw on.

The first study we ever did of eviction data was conducted in 2015 for cases filed between January 2, 2014 to October 31, 2014, about 8, 000 cases. It was just a housing court sample. It was by no means comprehensive, and we're not particularly going to look at any of that data, but I can draw on that in answering specific questions that may arise. What we’re going to focus this afternoon is on housing court cases that were filed between April and May of 2019, what we're calling the baseline, so way before there was any pandemic, we looked at every single housing court case.

Since the state moratorium has lifted there's been a third dataset that we've gathered, which is all housing courts and all district courts and that's about 6, 000 cases from the period October 18th of last year to December 26th. The team are reading cases more recent than that, but we're going to declare for the purpose of this presentation December 26th the latest case, anything we know about. Obviously, cases have been filed in the three weeks since.

Now just to clarify in case anyone has this question why is MassLandlords investing in this. It is something that we funded entirely by membership dues, and it's because MassLandlords

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