Can a landlord serve an eviction notice and lock out a tenant to prevent them from vacating when the lease allows 5 days in such a case?

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Can a landlord serve an eviction notice and lock out a tenant to prevent them from vacating when the lease allows 5 days in such a case?

Corporation leases commercial office space and is behind on the rent. Landlord hand delivered eviction notice (not court order). Fair enough. Lease allows 5 days to vacate and surrender the premises upon eviction. However, landlord changed the locks and took possession of all the corporation’s property, not allowing it to vacate, unless overdue rent is paid. How can tenant gain access to retake possession of its property and vacate?

Asked on November 16, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Massachusetts

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

A landlord is not allowed to change locks unilaterally, without first getting a judgment of possession from the courts in its favor. And it's not allowed to confiscate a tenant's property, unless the property is deemed abandoned, which generally either requires that some time pass after the tenant is locked out (or that there is a provision in the lease stating that anything left after a court-ordered lockout is deemed abandoned). Other things you landlord has done wrong include holding your property hostage in exchange for overdue rent, and violating the terms of the lease in regards to surrendering the premises.

In short, the landlord has violated the law. You can sue the landlord for access to your goods and also for monetary damages; you should consult with an attorney right away about doing this. In cases where  a party can suffer "imminent harm," such as by being kept away from its own property, the courts can act faster than they do in the usual run of cases, providing you relief in days or weeks.


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