How Landlords Should Handle Counterclaims in Massachusetts

By Robert Jachowicz

Counterclaims and defenses raised by a tenant in an eviction raise complicated issues in Massachusetts. In a recent case the Appeals court said the Trial court Housing Court judge got it wrong and the Supreme Judicial Court said the Appeals Court got it wrong. It is easy to understand why Landlords have trouble navigating their way through the laws and procedures that apply.

If an eviction is for cause a tenant can raise defenses. If the eviction is on some other ground, such as non-payment of rent, the tenant can also raise counterclaims. In a recent case the Supreme Judicial Court instructed a Housing Court judge to treat a security deposit violation, which was filed as a counterclaim in the Trial Court, as a defense to possession. In that case the tenant was awarded $1,300.00, the Landlord was awarded $3,900.00 so the net due the Landlord is $2,600.00. The mistake was not to permit the tenant to pay the balance and stay.

In a more recent decision a housing court judge awarded the Landlord possession and she dismissed the tenants’ counterclaims. The procedural issue the Appeals court did not like was that there was no Summary Judgment Motion filed by the Landlord, and no hearing on the tenants’ counterclaims. The Appeals court was willing in January, 2017 to let the Judgment for Possession stand but remand the case to the Housing Court for a hearing on the counterclaims. However, in March of 2017 the Supreme Judicial Court suggested the Appeals Court reconsider. In May, 2017 the Appeals Court vacated the Housing Court award of possession to the Landlord until after a hearing on the tenants’ counterclaims.

The initial case was a no fault termination of a tenancy at will. The fact that the tenant presented a counterclaim that the Housing Court Judge found to have little or no merit, but the tenant was able to claim was not fully considered resulted in the case ending up back on the Trial Court some two years after the initial trial of the case.

It is not enough to obtain a favorable decision from the judge. You need to help the judge get to the correct result in a way that minimizes the tenants’ ability to successfully appeal the case and delay the date the decision becomes final.

Categories: Landlord / Tenant Questions and Real Estate Articles.