By Peter Pawelczyk
South Coastal Counties Legal
Services, Inc.Please consider the following hypothetical fact-pattern that exemplifies an all-too-common scenario in these days of rising rental rates:

“My name is Susan. I am 71 years old. I have lived in my apartment for several years. I have been happy here, and my rent is reasonably affordable. Just this past week, I received a “Notice to Quit” telling me that my tenancy ends after 30 days because the landlord wants “possession” of the apartment. I started looking for a new apartment, but I cannot afford the rents that I see advertised in the area where I live. I have started the application process for some of the subsidized public housing options nearby, but I am told it may take many months before any such rental units become available. Without anywhere else to go, I will have to remain in my current apartment until I can find another place. When my current landlord takes me to court to evict me, will the court put me out on the street?”

Unfortunately, Susan’s question is one that may seniors are facing these days. Through “no fault” of their own, they are forced to try to find new housing in a hurry, simply because the landlord wants to recover “possession” of the apartment. As a result, folks like Susan face the horrifying question, “What will the court do when I’m evicted if I still have nowhere else to go?”

While the answer to this question will differ from case to case, it is important to know that in most “no fault” eviction cases Massachusetts law gives judges discretion to allow more time by granting what is called a “stay.” For example, suppose Susan’s landlord wins “possession” of the apartment in court; the judge may grant Susan’s request for a “stay,” which would allow her to remain in the apartment for additional time.

Of course, that begs the question, “How much additional time?” Again, the answer to this question will differ from case to case, but in most “no fault” evictions, judges have discretion to allow a “stay” of up to six months [up to twelve months for those 60 years or older or disabled].

Does this mean that Susan can remain in her apartment for an entire year, even after her landlord wins possession of the apartment in court? The frustrating answer to this question is, “It depends.” The “twelve-month” period described in the law represents the outer limit of the judge’s discretion. Practically speaking, the length of any “stay” granted to her by the judge could be considerably less than one year.

What should Susan do to convince the judge to give as much time as possible? – In order to increase the likelihood of receiving a “stay” and to maximize the length of any “stay” she receives, Susan should make every reasonable effort to secure new suitable housing. Not only that, Susan should also document every step she takes to secure new suitable housing. If she can convince the judge that she is actively doing everything she can to find a new place to live, the judge will have more incentive to allow additional time. If Susan needs help applying for housing, she should contact her local Council on Aging, where she can also learn about additional services in her area that can help with housing applications.

The information contained here does not constitute legal advice and is intended to provide a basic understanding of landlord-tenant law. This information is provided by South Coastal Counties Legal Services (SCCLS) which provides free legal services to eligible clients. There are no income criteria for adults age 60+ but individual representation is prioritized to those with the greatest economic and social need. SCCLS has offices in New Bedford, Fall River, Brockton, and Hyannis. For more information, please call our intake line at (800) 244-9023.