Rental Property Management Services, et al. v. Hatcher
In Rental Property Management Services, et al. v. Hatcher, a property manager brought a summary process action on behalf of a property owner to evict a residential tenant. The property manager admitted that he was not the owner or lessor of the leased premises and that he had previously initiated over ninety (90) summary process actions in his own name to evict tenants on behalf of property owners. The property manager alleged that he had previously been permitted to prosecute evictions in his own name by the housing court, court-appointed mediators and others in the court system. The tenant brought counterclaims against the property owner and property manager, alleging that, by “portraying himself as having the legal authority to initiate and prosecute an eviction proceeding against [the owner],” the property manager had engaged in unfair and deceptive practices in violation of M.G. L. c. 93A.
The Housing Court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction and enjoined the property manager from bringing other eviction cases in his own name. While finding that the property manager’s conduct was improper, the Housing Court dismissed the tenant’s counterclaims under c. 93A, finding that there was no evidence that the property manager was purposely “gaming the system” or engaged in other intentional misconduct in this case.
On appeal, the SJC affirmed the Housing Court’s findings, holding that a property manager acting as agent for a property owner or lessor does not have standing to prosecute an eviction action in the name of the property manager. The SJC directed that trial courts immediately dismiss any summary process action when it becomes clear that the plaintiff in the case is not the property owner or lessor. In addition, the SJC made clear that anyone who is not licensed as an attorney in Massachusetts, including a property manager, cannot sign documents to be filed in court on behalf of property owners or lessors or appear in court on their behalf without engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. Finally, the SJC held that the act of filing a summary process case without legal standing, does not constitute a violation of chapter 93A. However, the Court held that trial courts have the inherent power to impose sanctions, where warranted under the circumstances, on those who attempt to evict a tenant without legal standing to do so, including the assessment of monetary penalties such as attorney’s fees and costs.
The full case cite is Rental Property Management Services, et al. v. Hatcher, 479 Mass. 542 (2018).