Summary Process Actions in Boston Housing Court
68 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2007
Date Written: May 20, 1983
This paper consists primarily of an empirical study of summary process actions in the Boston Housing Court, and proposals for reform based on the findings of that study. To compile our data we reviewed the case files of 500 summary process actions commenced in 1982. We were interested primarily in studying the default rate, the impact of representation and legal advice on the parties, and the ability of tenants to present and prevail upon the defenses and counterclaims afforded them by Massachusetts law. Our findings, presented in Part II of this paper, include the observations that a large number of tenants default, that most of the tenants who appear in Court are unrepresented, while most landlords are represented, and that while representation in most cases has little impact on how landlords fare, tenants who either are represented or have access to legal advice fare significantly better and are better able to present their claims than unrepresented tenants.
To lower thedefault rate and alleviate the imbalance between tenants with advice or representation and tenants without, we propose a series of reforms, presented in Part IV. The reforms are designed primarily to increase the access of tenants to the court, enhance the ability of unrepresented and unadvised tenants to recognize and raise substantive claims, and improve the Court's response to those claims once they have been raised. Each of our reforms also is designed to educate both tenants and landlords regarding their rights and duties.
We recognize that the Court is overburdened considerably by its present caseload. Perhaps,as a consequence, the last thing the Court would want at this time is to be criticized or bombarded with proposals for reform. Nonetheless, where we have criticized the Court, we believe that criticism is both justified and constructive. Furthermore, some of our reforms actually could decrease the Court's caseload, while others require merely the substitution of one form for another, or a change in the attitude of court personnel. Finally, we offer these criticisms and reforms in the belief that the Court personnel genuinely are concerned with the Court's treatment of the parties before it, and therefore in the hope that the Court will be receptive to these criticisms and reforms.
Keywords: unrepresented litigants, pro se litigants, self-represented litigants, court studies, housing court
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