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This week the Massachusetts Appeals Court held that a trial court judge did not abuse her discretion when denying a homeowner’s motion seeking to remove his ex-girlfriend from his home for trespassing.

The ex-girlfriend moved into the home in 2011, though her name was never added to the property’s title. During the couple’s relationship, she “substantially contributed to the property, by using her professional expertise as an interior designer to renovate the property and select its dΓ©cor and furnishings.”

At some point the couple’s relationship deteriorated and, in September 2021, the homeowner moved out of his own property and began living with friends or sleeping at hotels. He was locked out of his home by his ex who changed the locks and refused to leave the property.

The matter was eventually brought before Superior Court where the homeowner asked for a preliminary injunction deeming his ex-girlfriend a trespasser and ordering her to vacate the property. The motion argued that

during their romantic relationship, [the ex-girlfriend] was “a licensee — a mere guest” at the property, and because that relationship has ended “she is now a trespasser, or in layperson’s terms, a squatter.”

She countered that

she is an “occupant” of the property with equitable rights “that can only be terminated through a [s]ummary [p]rocess proceeding” pursuant to G. L. c. 239, Β§ 1 et seq.

The Superior Court sided with the homeowner’s ex and denied his motion for a preliminary injunction based on trespass laws.

The matter was appealed and the Appeals Court affirmed the decision, adding that the affirmation of the lower court’s decision does not conclusively determine whether trespassing laws are applicable to the situation. Though justices suggest that eviction (i.e., summary process) may be the sole recourse to a homeowner is such a scenario:

there is a strong argument that summary process is indeed the exclusive remedy available. General Laws c. 184, Β§ 18, provides that “[n]o person shall attempt to recover possession of land or tenements in any manner other than through an action brought pursuant to [the summary process statute] or such other proceedings authorized by law.”

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