LANDLORD CHURCHES

Churches often own property and when that property is no longer mission critical the churches lease the property to a tenant.  It provides the church a source of income from an asset that may one day again be needed.  It allows the church to retain control of what is typically adjacent or nearby property.  Of course, the Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine may apply to some disputes, in whole or in part, about church property.  In Neutral Principles jurisdictions, secular issues may be decided and religious issues ignored or the reserved for decision by the church.

Beluah Pilgrim Holiness Church v Otto, Slip Op., Memorandum and Order (Mass. App. 2018) was an interlocutory appellate order concluding that the Housing Court had jurisdiction to hear eviction proceedings against tenants of church property.  The Housing Court in Massachusetts, apparently from the opinion, conducts “summary proceedings,” which are probably cases tried only on written submissions and a due process hearing.  Most likely, if either party desires trial of issues not suitable for that minimal process, the matter is transferred to a court of general jurisdiction.

The takeaway is that in Neutral Principles jurisdictions church landlords, and tenants, should be able to use limited jurisdiction courts and proceedings.  The flip side is that they can be forced to participate in proceedings before those limited jurisdiction tribunals and should not assume the church will be able to easily ascend to a court of general jurisdiction.

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