Lease signing

May a Landlord Evict a Tenant for Perpetually Paying the Rent Late?

The answer: it depends.  Under Massachusetts law, courts retain considerable equitable power to refuse to order a forfeiture of leased premises even if the tenant repeatedly violates the lease.  A Superior Court judge recently applied this doctrine to deny an eviction order to the landlord where the tenant, a North End restaurant, habitually paid the rent days or weeks into the month instead of at the beginning of the month.  The landlord, which operated a restaurant next door and wished to expand its restaurant into the tenant’s space, persistently notified the tenant when the rent was late, and did not waive any rights under the lease.  Nevertheless, the court refused to order the tenant to vacate because the failure to pay rent on the first of the month was, under the circumstances, not material nor sufficiently significant or substantial to warrant a forfeiture of the space.  The court emphasized that the tenant always paid, and usually just a week or two late, the landlord had the right to impose fines under the lease for late payment, and there was no evidence that the landlord was unable to meet its own obligations on account of the late payments.  While each case will turn on its facts, this decision is a reminder to landlords and tenants alike that not every lease violation will permit a landlord to remove a defaulting tenant.   The case is Varano v. PDJM Land Trust, LLC, Suffolk Superior Court Action 1886CV02662 (June 16, 2022), and can be found here.

- By David Mack