When it comes time to evict a commercial tenant in Massachusetts, there are many rules and guidelines that the landlord must follow. While at first glance Massachusetts law does not seem to differ between evicting a residential tenant or a commercial tenant, there are important considerations that apply to commercial tenants that you need to be aware of.
If you need to evict a commercial tenant, the Katz Law Group can ensure that you follow Massachusetts law and complete the eviction successfully and efficiently.
LEASE VIOLATIONS IN THE COMMERCIAL CONTEXT
Commercial leases do not tend to be simple, standard forms like those used by landlords for residential tenants. Commercial tenants understand that eviction could destroy their business, and so they negotiate for very specific terms to be included in the lease agreement.
However, once the lease is signed, it binds both parties. When your commercial tenant breaks the lease in such a way that you feel eviction is necessary, you have the right to enforce the commercial rental agreement. Most commercial leases last for an average of three to five years, however, they can often cover terms of ten or more years.
Common commercial lease violations include, but are not limited to:
- Failure to pay rent
- Failure to properly care for the property
- Code compliance issues
- Failure or refusal to carry required liability insurance
- Having a negative impact on other commercial tenants
- Failure to care for common areas
- Improper assignments or subletting of the lease
- Making unapproved changes to the building or other lease property
These violations could result in a breach of the commercial lease agreement sufficient to warrant the eviction of the commercial tenant.
Certain types of other violations may not be expressly stated in the lease but could warrant eviction. This is especially true when a commercial tenant becomes a "nuisance" to others around it or to the community. This can occur as the result of
- Code violations
- Improper sanitation
- Statutory law violations
- Criminal acts
This area of law can be more complicated than a breach of the lease agreement, but consulting an experienced Massachusetts commercial eviction attorney can help you determine the best path forward.
RIGHTS OF COMMERCIAL TENANTS IN MASSACHUSETTS
The "rights" of a commercial tenant are often considered "less" than that of a residential tenant, as a commercial entity has the power to negotiate its own terms and fight its own battles, and an eviction does not implicate a person's living space. However, this does not mean that commercial tenants have no rights.
The most important right of the commercial tenant is the enforcement of a valid lease agreement. When a lease agreement is legally enforceable and the landlord breaches material terms of the agreement, the commercial tenant has a right to pursue enforcement of the lease or demand damages as appropriate in the given situation.
Commercial tenants also have protections under the Consumer Protection Statute, G.L.c. 93A § 11. This permits the tenant to file a Chapter 93A complaint against the landlord when the landlord engages in unfair and deceptive acts or methods of competition. Violations of this statute can result in double or even triple damages, granting powerful protection against abuse of commercial tenants.
A commercial tenant also has the right to enjoy a tenancy free from serious interference. This includes keeping the property in a substantially safe condition. While this can be limited in a commercial lease, the right still exists.
AVOIDING SELF-HELP EVICTIONS
A landlord should not engage in any form of "self-help" in order to effectuate an eviction of a commercial tenant (or any tenant for that matter). Self-help is illegal and can result in very serious financial sanctions against the landlord.
Self-help can include, but is not limited to:
- Changing the locks
- Blocking access to the property
- Locking a garage or disabling a vehicle
- Turning off utilities to the property
- Putting up signage that indicates a property is off-limits or closed
- Physically removing property of tenant without going through the eviction process
RISKS OF EVICTION FOR PROPERTY OWNERS
There are certain risks associated with evicting a commercial tenant. Commercial property is often very specifically tailored to the needs of a business (i.e., a fast-food restaurant chain with its style and design). When you evict a commercial tenant, filling the property with another tenant may be difficult because of the redesign costs involved. The cost of having a property without a tenant can be high.
Certain risks can be avoided by hiring an attorney. Attempting to evict a tenant on your own can result in accidental violations of Massachusetts law, which could be incredibly costly. An attorney can navigate complex commercial eviction law for you and ensure you do not suffer the risks associated with violations of law.
NEGOTIATING WITH YOUR TENANT
In many cases, it is best to negotiate with your commercial tenant rather than pursue eviction. Many issues can be resolved by a letter from your attorney, a cease and desist letter, or through a more formal negotiation process such as mediation. This can alleviate the heavy cost of an eviction and the frustration and financial loss associated with finding a new commercial tenant for your space.
The Summary Eviction Process
Many successful commercial evictions are done through the summary eviction process. This is a streamlined procedure that is designed to let the commercial tenant that is in violation of its lease do the right thing and leave the premises.
Commercial landlords have to go through the summary eviction process first, before taking any additional measures to evict the tenant.
The first step for commercial landlords in Massachusetts is to serve their tenant with a “notice to quit.” This informs the tenant of the lease violations and gives them 14 days to cure them.
If the tenant does not fix or stop their lease violation, commercial landlords can file a summary process summons and a complaint in court. These are then served on the tenant. A hearing will be scheduled in court within two weeks.
The threat of eviction is often enough to convince the commercial tenant to leave the premises, especially if it is clear that they are violating their lease and there is no justification for doing so. However, some tenants choose to challenge the eviction by serving discovery. This delays the hearing so evidence can be gathered.
DAMAGES IN EVICTION CASES
As part of a successful eviction case, a landlord can recover certain damages suffered as a result of the commercial tenant's breach. This can include but is not limited to the following.
- Costs of repair for damage to the property (including structural elements, unapproved changes, water damage, etc.)
- Recovery of unpaid back rent
- Use of the security deposit
- Recovery of eviction costs
- Recovery of property storage costs
- Damages related to the early termination of the lease agreement (subject to the landlord's duty to mitigate damages)
- Specific performance of lease terms (requires the party to comply with the lease agreement)
CONSULT A MASSACHUSETTS COMMERCIAL EVICTION ATTORNEY AT THE KATZ LAW GROUP
When a commercial tenant breaches a lease or rental agreement, it is important that you as the landlord enforce your rights. Massachusetts law grants landlords different remedies, including the right to evict a tenant. With experienced legal help, you can effectively protect your rights.
At the Katz Law Group, we have experience in the area of commercial lease agreement enforcement as well as eviction. With nearly 40 years of litigation and business experience, we can help you protect your rights. Contact us online today or call us at (508) 480-8202 for a consultation. We help commercial landlords enforce their rental agreements in Framingham, Worcester, Marlborough, Middlesex and Norfolk Counties, and the rest of Massachusetts.