The Massachusetts Housing Court will be expanded to serve the
entire commonwealth, according to a provision contained in the FY18
state budget signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker in July. The
statewide expansion of the Housing Court fulfills a long-standing
position of the Massachusetts Bar Association, which has constantly
advocated for expansion and increased funding for several
The provision will now initiate a statewide expansion of the
court to serve approximately two million citizens in Barnstable,
Middlesex, Norfolk, Suffolk, Dukes and Nantucket counties, who
previously had no access to Housing Court. That population amounts
to 84 communities or 31 percent of the state, which lacked Housing
Court coverage. In jurisdictions without a Housing Court, disputes
were previously taken to District Court, where they were mixed in
with all other civil cases.
"It makes sense from an access-to-justice standpoint given our
expertise in this area to make the services of the Housing Court
available to those 84 communities and approximately two million
citizens who up until this point and time did not have access,"
said Housing Court Chief Justice Timothy F. Sullivan.
The court previously operated five separate divisions across the
state. A sixth division, the Metro South Division, has been added
as of July 1; it will be eventually centered in Brockton. While the
court does not have a physical presence in that jurisdiction yet,
four out of the five original divisions are currently taking
filings generated in the new division. Five new judges will also be
added to facilitate statewide coverage - two in the Metro South
Division, one in the Northeast Division and two as circuit
The Housing Court is a specialty court that provides a legal
venue for both landlords and tenants to handle housing disputes and
other housing related matters. Providing judges with expertise in
complicated local, state and federal housing laws, the court has
been described as efficient and user-friendly, and helps reduce
homelessness and increase public safety. In each of the last two
fiscal years, the Housing Court handled more than 40,000 case
filings with 118 total employees.
"As the statewide bar association, we are proud to have played a
key role in the effort to make Housing Court an accessible reality
for all residents of the commonwealth," said Martin W. Healy, MBA
chief legal counsel and chief operating officer. "We will continue
to work very closely with both the bench and bar to ensure a smooth
transition of Housing Court expansion across the state."
The FY18 state budget provides an allocation of $750,000 for the
initial phase of the expansion.
"We are enormously grateful to the Legislature, both the House
and the Senate and the administration, for the great confidence
that they've shown in our ability to absorb these 84 communities
and two million citizens," said Sullivan. "We also understand we
have a heavy responsibility to live up to the confidence that's
been shown in us."
MBA Immediate Past President Jeffrey N. Catalano, who made
expansion of the Housing Court one of his top legislative
priorities, added: "This expansion of the Housing Courts to the
rest of the commonwealth represents a monumental achievement by
dedicated advocates, judges, legislators and the governor. We will
now have more judges and courts to ensure a fair process for
tenants and landlords and to protect many citizens' fundamental
need for shelter."
Earlier this year, Catalano had the opportunity to attend
Housing Court in both Boston and Springfield and described his
experience in the March/April issue of Massachusetts Lawyers
Journal His overall takeaway: everyone benefits from Housing
"In general, these courts, their judges and their staff serve
vital roles in providing tenants with a fair and efficient process,
while also enabling landlords to maintain viable rental income.
Through code enforcements and receiverships, they also revitalize
properties and thereby increase tax revenues to municipalities,"
wrote Catalano in his President's View column.
The Housing Court is working with all other court departments to
secure space in existing courthouses to fulfill the statewide
expansion effort. No capital expenditures are expected to be made
to build additional space.
To address how and when expansion will happen, the Massachusetts
Law Reform Institute will host a series of community meetings with
Chief Justice Sullivan. The meetings will take place in Chelsea
(September 11, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.), Malden (September 18, 8:30-11
a.m.), Framingham (September 20, 5:30-7:30 p.m.), Barnstable
(September 21, 9-11 a.m.), and Brockton (September 25, 5:30-7:30