What to Know About Hold Over Tenants and Squatters in Massachusetts

Holdover tenants and squatters are persons on the property of another without the permission to remain on the property. If you are a landlord and have a holdover tenant or believe a squatter has taken up residence, you may need legal assistance to guide you through the process.

Marco Sandonato, trusted landlord/tenant law attorney representing landlords and property owners in the Boston metro area, can guide you through the process to lawfully and timely remove unwanted persons from your property.  Contact Marco Sandonato today to learn more about his law practice and how he may be able to help you.

Are holdover tenants and squatters considered the same thing in Boston?

Holdover tenants and squatters are often terms interchanged to mean someone on a property without the owner's or landlord's permission. They are, however, different in some important respects.

  • Holdover tenants are tenants who have remained in the rental property after the lease has expired. So, they had a lawful reason to be on the property in the first place – they just "overstayed their welcome." Holdover tenants are not considered trespassers and so what they are doing has no criminal consequences – unless they are asked to leave, then they become trespassers. (Sometimes, a holdover tenant may continue to pay rent and the landlord may continue to accept the rent.)
  • Squatters are people who found a property – typically abandoned, foreclosed, or otherwise vacant – and moved into the property without obtaining permission by the owner. So, they were never lawfully permitted on the property and, as such, can sometimes be considered trespassers. 

Do Holdover Tenants and Squatters have Rights to the Property in Massachusetts?

Holdover tenants, also known as tenants at sufferance, do not necessarily have rights to the premises they are holding over. They do, however, have the right not be evicted unless it is through a formal proceeding.

Squatters, on the other hand, can acquire rights to the property if they fulfill the requirements of adverse possession according to MGL c.260 § 21. Until those rights materialize, the squatter can be arrested for criminal trespassing.

How do you lawfully remove a holdover tenant or squatter?

To remove a holdover tenant or squatter from a property, the process is not very different: a civil eviction action known as summary process is necessary for both situations. This is confusing for some property owners regarding squatters because the law effectively treats the squatter as though he or she was a regular tenant.

For squatters in Boston, however, there is an exception that may allow you to avoid the formal eviction proceeding if:

  1. the property is under the jurisdiction of the Boston Housing Authority (BHA); and
  2. the squatter is causing problems.

When the latter two conditions apply, according to M.G.L. c.266 § 120, squatters may be evicted through the criminal process. 

If your property does not fall under the BHA, however, the most common means to evict a squatter is summary process for non-payment of rent. This requires a standard eviction action, including a 14-day notice.

For the holdover tenant, the process is similar to an eviction action except the landlord is not required to give a notice to quit. This is true even if the landlord had been accepting rent after the expiration of the lease. That said, it is still recommended to provide a notice, maybe 72 hours opposed to 14 days.

What should you do if you need to remove a holdover tenant or squatter from your property in Boston?

Self-help is not a legal option in Boston or throughout Massachusetts. Landlords and property owners often believe the property is theirs or under their management, so they can do what is needed to remove unwanted persons unlawfully on the property. But taking steps on your own outside the housing courts can get you into legal trouble, too. 

Marco Sandonato will investigate your case and outline your best options. He will guide you through the process so that you make informed, smart decisions about your rental and/or property. Contact Sandonato Law today at 617-481-2742 to schedule a consultation.

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