The System in MA is Designed So You Can Never Collect From a Tenant Who Owes You

Almost all Tenants in MA are judgment-proof. In other words, monetary judgments against them are practically useless.

Here is the income that is exempt from payment orders per MA law. This was given to me by Leominster District Court.

CERTAIN PERSONAL AND REAL PROPERTY is exempt from payment orders, including:

  • $2500 in cash savings or other deposits in banking or investment institutions (GL c.235,  sec 34, cl. 15th)
  • Automobile or vehicle up to the exemption limit (GL c235, sec 34, cl.16th)
  • Real Estate subject to automatic or declared homestead exemption (GL c.188) and in lieu thereof the amount of money necessary for rent, up to $2500 per month (GL c. 235, sec 34, cl. 14th)
  • There are also exemptions for “aggregate” amounts, up to the maximum limits, of certain unused exemptions (GL c235, sec 34, cl. 17th)

ALL INCOME FROM THE FOLLOWING SOURCES is exempt by law from any payment order: –

  • Unemployment benefits (MGL c 151A,  sec 36)
  • Workers Compensation Benefits (MGL c.152, sec 47)
  • Social Security Benefits (42 USC, sec 401)
  • Federal Old-age, Survivor and Disability Insurance Benefits (42 USC, sec 407)
  • Supplementary Security Income (SSI) for Aged, Blind and Disabled (42 USC, sec 1383 d 1)
  • Other Disability Insurance Benefits up to $400 weekly (MGL 175, sec 110A)
  • Emergency Aid for Elderly and Disabled (MGL 117A)
  • Veterans Benefits:
    • Federal Veterans Benefits (38 USC, sec 5301 (a))
    • Special Benefits for Certain WWII Veterans (42 USC, sec 1001)
    • Medal of Honor Veterans Benefits (38 USC, sec 1562)
    • State Veterans Benefits (MGL 115, sec 5)
  • Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) Benefits (MGL 118, sec 10)
  • Maternal Child Health Services Block Grant Benefits (42 USC, sec 701)
  • Other Public Assistance Benefits (MGL 235, sec 34, 15th)

A PORTION OF WAGES OR EMPLOYMENT-BASED RETIREMENT PAYMENTS is exempt by law from any payment order. The exempt amount is $400 or 85% of their weekly gross earnings, whichever is greater. In other words, if you earn less than $470 a week the exempt amount is $400 and if you earn more, the exempt amount is the greater of 85% of whatever you earn or 50 times times the MA min wage. As of this writing the minimum wage in MA is $14.25 so 50 times of that is $712.50 which is $37,050 a year. $37,050 is 85% of $43,588 so unless my math is wrong if you earn up to $43,588 a year, congratulations, you are judgment-proof in MA. (MGL 224, sec. 16 and MGL 246, sec. 28). I think it’s fair to say that about 95% of my tenant applicants earn less than 43,588K a year.

In other words, if you are on any Public Assistance or earn less than $3632 a month, you get to keep your house, car, rent up to $2500/month, and $2500 in your bank and you can steal any money you want and you don’t have to pay it back. Welcome to MA! And even if you earn more, you don’t need to show up to court as many tenants have figured and it’s close to impossible to find your new address (believe me I have contacted over 80 collection agencies/private investigators in one case and they either don’t deal with ex-tenants or they simply cannot locate them when they have tried). So what they owe you can’t even get on their credit report for other unsuspecting victims to be warned. The Courts and the Government stay out of it and don’t enforce their judgments (even though they can locate you in no time if you owed them or your ex-wife money in taxes. alimony or child support and in fact they specifically say that most of these judgment-proof exclusions don’t apply in these cases, etc). So basically we have a system here in MA where if you owe money to a private commercial party, it’s on the “honor” system and completely voluntary – if you want to pay you can pay, if you don’t want to pay, you don’t have to and if the court cannot serve you because the Plaintiff doesn’t have your new address and there is no system under which the Plaintiff can find your address in MA legally (except maybe if they are lucky and the mail they send you comes back undeliverable with your new address stamped on it which almost never happens) there is no record against you, the case is dismissed and nothing goes on your credit.

I want to be clear – I am NOT against having a social safety net like this. We can argue if $43,588 is too high which I think it is but that’s fine. What I don’t understand is why the creditors, a private party, is stuck with paying for this social safety net. It’s in nobody’s interest that creditors get your last dollar, transportation and push you into homelessness where you become a public charge, I get that, but at the same time it’s unfair that no effort by the State is made to enforce its court rulings, locate the person who owes the money and have a hearing to determine if they can work extra on the weekends, etc to gradually pay off their debts. There should be no such thing as “judgment-free’ because no one should be above the law.

This issue of 95% of tenants being judgment and consequence free combined with the fact post-Covid it takes 4 months to reach a judge in Housing Court is the most serious problem right now.

The tsunami of backed-up cases that was caused by the Legislature and the SJC shutting down the courts for 6 months is being used as an excuse by Housing Court right now to guarantee landlords having 3-4 months of lost income if a tenant who is being evicted decided to stop paying the rent. After the expiration of the Notice to Quit you file a Summons and were given a Hearing Date 3 weeks after you file it. Now they don’t give you a date, you have to wait about 3 months to reach a Mediator and another month to reach a judge if mediation failed. You might wait even longer if they let someone secretly cut the line. There is no accountability, hearing dates are given behind the scene, who knows how those Hearing Dates get assigned…It might be based on who you now…Who knows?

Since as I have already established that The System in MA is Designed So You Can Never Collect From a Tenant Who Owes You basically you are guaranteed to lose at least 3-4 months of rent. This built in guarantee is very bad for Massachusetts Landlords. I believe it’s currently the #1 issue for us. It’s worse than Rent Control, worse than No Mandatory Rent Escrow, worse than 93A, worse than Right of First Refusal, etc. Think about it – it takes 4 months to reach a judge after your Notice to Quit expires!!! That’s an automatic loss of 4 months of uncollectable rent!!

MassLandlords, the largest association of landlords in MA is silent about it. I get their newsletter and it’s crickets. I don’t remember reading anything about this. Their most recent newsletter educated us on the intricacies of direct mail (what?) and the one before that was pretty much a rant about the inability of MA to select a politically correct Seal and Motto. I quote: “The state coat of arms depicts the sword of Myles Standish brandished above a Native American man, possibly Pecksuot. Standish murdered Pecksuot and others by knife, in cold blood at a dinner party Standish arranged in 1623 in what is now Weymouth. That this event should be commemorated in the seal was wrong even by the standards of Standish’s day. This is why history prior to recent research claimed Pecksuot died in battle a year later, in 1624. This seems to have been a cover-up. Even if Pecksuot had died in battle, how does the commemoration of indigenous death live up to today’s standards of non-violence and non-discrimination based on race and ancestry? The seal and motto, “through the sword we seek peace,” must be changed. (If the seal had a musket and a Redcoat, would it be any better?)”


MassLandlords’  proposed solution/answer to the seal and motto “scandal” and the inability of the Legislature to tackle urgent and non-urgent problems – “Well, while we wait for our leaders to act, we can at least do our jobs as well as possible. In April, we gave instruction on our pet addendum, top 10 tips for new investors and zero emissions retrofits.”

Double WTF.

I have written to the Chief Justice of the Housing Court and in his answer he basically says he is unable or unwilling to do anything about it. 

Where is MassLandlords? My feeling is that because Doug Quattrochi, the executive director of MassLandlords since 2012 or 2013 is a very small landlord (my understanding is that he lives with his husband in a duplex or triplex, they occupy one unit and the other 1 or 2 they rent) so probably this issue is not on his personal radar and it’s unlikely to personally affect him. I don’t really know him but I assume he is a nice guy. His salary is I think $50-60,000 and it looks like a nice and cushy job to defend the rights of all landlords in MA. I will write more about Doug and MassLandords another time.

For right now, this issue of not being able to see a judge for 4-5 months after your Notice to Quit expires is the elephant in the room and I am hearing nothing from MassLandlords about it or from any other landlord group or Association.