To all judges of Housing Court
To the Chief Justice of Housing Court
To the Chief Justice of the SJC
Pre-Covid vs Post-Covid Housing Court
The last time I had to serve a 14-day notice for non-payment of rent was I think in 2019 and that’s quite an accomplishment owning 45 fully-filled apartments during Covid. Ever since I started renting only to people with excellent credit I don’t go to Housing Court much anymore but sometimes I have to and I am always left with a bitter taste in my mouth how unfriendly everyone is and how unhelpful. They don’t even want to help if you have a question about how to fill a form. They quickly wash their hands by saying “go to talk to a lawyer.” For example, what would be acceptable to the court when you fill the names at the very top of the Summary Process Summons and Complaint Form where it says “To Defendant(s)/Tenant(s)/Occupants(s) if the landlord doesn’t know all the names of the occupants secretly invited by the tenants at some point? “Well, we are not going to tell you what wording is acceptable to us, ask a lawyer.”
Anyway, here are four current issues with Housing Court that need to be addressed:
Post-Covid Housing Court started requiring that we see a mediator before seeing a judge. I have nothing against mediation and mediators but it seems to me a court cannot require you to see a mediator. That’s overstepping. They can recommend it but not require it as a prerequisite to seeing a judge. I am not a lawyer but I hope somebody who is a lawyer looks into that and pushes back a little on that with the Housing Court.
Pre-Covid you go to court and they ask you if you want to see a mediator, you say yes, knowing that if you cannot reach an agreement you can see the judge the same day. We go to court to see a judge not a mediator!
Post-Covid they force you to see a mediator and then if the mediation fails you cannot see a judge the same day. You need another date in many cases a month away after the date with the mediator. What is that? It seems we are going backwards not forward.
- PRE-COVID SUMMARY PROCESS FORMS VS POST-COVID
During Covid the Summary Process Summons and Complaint form was quietly updated mostly by adding language helpful to the tenants. Fine. But what’s not fine is what I was told by Housing Court – that the old forms are no longer acceptable, if you served one they will not accept it, you have to bring them in person and exchange them for new ones. Really? You couldn’t just let folks use up the old forms? Even the Post Office let’s you use up stamps you have already purchased even if they raised the price. Which leads me to another problem with these Summary Process Summons and Complaint forms – you have to take precious time from your day to go to Housing Court, take off your belt and dignity at the metal detector and pay them $5 per form. Really? In 2022 there isn’t a better way to handle this? First of all, why is the Housing Court in the business of selling forms? The Church should not be in the business of selling indulgencies and the Court shouldn’t be in the business of selling Court Forms. These forms should be free and downloadable. Period. That way you will also always have the most up to date form and if you are out of town you can still stay in business and can download it, fill it and serve it. In addition, the requirement that you need to give “the original” SP to the sheriff is also ridiculous. An emailed form should be just fine. You already charge us $135 to file. Gee, make it $140 and stop making people drive around wasting time and burning fossil fuel. Mr. Sullivan, tear down this wall!
- TO PO BOX OR NOT TO PO BOX? THAT’S THE QUESTION.
Justice Sullivan, another ridiculous wall you should tear down is the requirement that landlords cannot use a PO Box on these SP forms. The new SP forms have the following added: “A P.O. box will not be accepted as an address for the Plaintiff”. Whoever wrote this didn’t even bother to add per what law (if any) is this requirement.
The reason why landlords use PO boxes is the same reason why you, judges, don’t publish your addresses – we don’t want some disgruntled litigant/tenant to hunt us and our families down and exact revenge for exercising our rights.
Once we put our street address on the SP form the tenant (whom we are evicting!!!) will know where we live. Justice Sullivan, you are putting our families in danger!
And finally the most important issue of
- NO HEARING DATE GIVEN
The pre-Covid forms had a date given for the Court Hearing and post-Covid there is no date. It just says “To be determined by the Court”. We really need to go back to a date given for the Hearing and Answer. And that date needs to be with a judge not with a mediator. Mediation should be encouraged but it should be optional.
One of the reasons we need a date is for transparency reasons. Not being given a date opens the door to corruption. How do we know that attorney so and so friend-of-the-court is not secretly talking to the Clerk and getting ahead of the line and given behind-the-curtain priority and all the lowly pro se litigants aren’t pushed to the back of the line? We don’t really know, do we? And that’s the point. Justice Sullivan, I am sure you will assure us that none of that is going on but the point is – we don’t really know and by keeping the Hearing date secret you are opening the door to possible abuses of the system.
Plus these hearing dates are being given 2-3-4-5-6 and I heard that one of the courts (I think it was Northeast Housing) even 7-8 months into the future. That is NOT acceptable for Summary Process. We need to go back ASAP to having the Service, Entry, Answer and Hearing Date right on the SP form. And the Hearing date needs to be not longer than 3 weeks from the File or Entry date or whatever it was pre-Covid.
With every passing year we are looking to go forward not to go backward in time, for our lives to be improved not worsened, made easier not harder.