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3 Ways to Cut The Housing Court Case Load

I have been a member of several landlord groups where Housing Court judges show up occasionally to speak and they sometimes take close to half of their time complaining how their case load is very high and how we should contact our legislators to ask them to give housing courts more money and hire more court personnel.

 

Here are 3 suggestions on how to reduce Housing Court case load:

 

1.      Publishing Judges opinions with the click of a button to the Social Law Library where all people can read them. If the reason why  they choose not to make their opinions available is out of fear of criticism then this fear is really misplaced because by choosing to be government employees they knew or should have known that scrutiny and criticism come with the territory. I understand that housing court judges are not required to publish their opinions (as I believe they should be in MA) but it is the right thing to do and will not only provide better Access to Justice but will also be used by landlords AND tenants to self-educate which I estimate may decrease Housing Court case load by 5 – 10%.

 

2.      Allowing that computer that is sitting in their Clerk’s Office to be visible for all on the Internet.  We have heard lots of excuses as to why this is still not the case and we’ve been told for years that they are “working on it”. I spoke with the company that designs that software and they assured me that their product is designed to have that information on the Internet for everyone to search from home but  the MA courts choose that not to happen. If they put that information online it will reduce the flow of landlords coming to the Clerk’s Office to check tenants’ background. Also many landlords take tenants without bothering to check this up-to-date eviction information and eventually end up in housing court. That may be another 5% – 10% in case load decrease.

3.      Applying the current (even though terribly flawed) Escrow Law. We all should know that the rent escrow law (MGL 239, 8A) in MA is currently broken because it allows some tenants to engage in retaliation and wreak havoc on the court system and on our lives by calling the health board in bad faith when we try to enforce a rule, try to evict them for cause or when they simply run out of money for the rent. However, even the current escrow law allows judges to voluntarily order the tenants to put their full rent in escrow until the end of the case and certainly obligates judges to order the tenant to start paying the rent directly to the landlord the moment the landlords get Certificate of Compliance from the Health Board. That is not being done as often as it should and it clogs the court system. In 2010 I had a case in front of Judge Robert Fields from Western Housing Court where I told him that I had the Certificate of Compliance from the Health Board and he not only did not order the tenant to start paying the rent to me but he also refused to honor my repeated requests that the rent goes into an escrow account. If the current escrow law is applied it may cut Housing Court case load by at least 15%.

When the rent escrowing in MA becomes mandatory as it should be and will be, then that may cut their case load by another 30%. The load on MA health boards will lower as well.

 

What I am trying to say is: I believe that the Housing Court Judges in MA currently have the power in their hands to lower their current load by at least 20-25% with a relatively minimal effort but I am not sure lowering the case load is what they are after.

 

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