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Your Rights as a Tenant

Tenants in Massachusetts are entitled to a myriad of rights under state law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In this entry of The Lawg, we discuss a tenant’s habitability rights. These rights entitle the tenant to a safe and habitable living environment throughout the period of their tenancy. The laws that detail habitability are listed under the State Sanitary Code. In a separate entry we will discuss the actions that tenants can undertake to compel a landlord to maintain his or her obligations under the lease.

The Massachusetts state sanitary code is located on the Massachusetts State government website. www.malegislature.gov.  If you believe that your landlord is ignoring his responsibilities to you, it would be useful to see if there is a statute that prohibits the landlord’s behavior. Since it is impossible to cover every contingency that the habitability rights would apply to, we discuss a few of the most common.

First, animals in an apartment can be fun, but unwanted critters, like mice or rats or BED BUGS roaming your apartment are unnerving. If your lease is silent on the issue of responsibility for such pests, the law in Massachusetts splits the responsibility of the landlord and tenant based on the rental unit status. If you live in a building with a single living unit (i.e. the landlord owns one unit and you live in it) then you are responsible for the prevention from and extermination of any insects, rodents and even skunks. However, if you live in a building that has multiple living units, (i.e. the landlord owns 2 or more units and you live in one) then the landlord is responsible for the prevention and extermination of pests. The issue can be slightly more complicated if it is determined that the landlord’s failure to maintain the building / unit is what has caused the pest problem.  If you feel your situation falls into these categories, please feel free to call The Jacobs Law, LLC to discuss your options with an experienced Massachusetts attorney.

Next, nobody likes cold showers. Under Massachusetts state law, everybody is entitled to hot water.  The sanitary code outlines basic requirements for the hot water system in your unit. The temperature of the hot water cannot drop below 110° Fahrenheit (43°C) and not exceed 130° Fahrenheit (54°C). The hot water must maintain functioning pressure and quantity. If there is a discrepancy in these temperatures it is the responsibility of the landlord to fix it. Look towards your lease agreement to see if you are required to provide the fuel for the hot water system or if the landlord is going to pay for it (i.e. if heat/hot water are ‘included’). If there is a problem with the hot water system, the inspection of the system should be done by the landlord. Furthermore the landlord has a duty to replicate the situation surrounding the problem as you describe it. This is meant to identify the problem as you experienced it.

Seeing your breath in the winter can be amusing, but not when it is in your home in mid-January in New England. In Massachusetts, the Department of Public Health mandates that during certain times of the year the heat in your unit MUST be on. From September 15th to June 15th you must have heat available to your unit. Furthermore, if the temperature is controlled by the landlord, it cannot exceed 78° Fahrenheit (25°C) during the winter season. The time of day is also very important. Again, if the landlord controls the heat in your unit/building, the law states that between 7AM and 11PM the temperature in your unit cannot drop below 68° Fahrenheit (20°C), and between 11PM and 7AM the temperature cannot drop below 64° Fahrenheit (17°C). If YOU pay for and control the temperature of your heat, then you are free to put it as high as you want. However, be careful, because you are required to maintain the heat from falling below freezing in the winter to avoid bursting the pipes.

Lastly, we discuss a worst case scenario…total loss due to fire. There are a few things that every tenant should know about their unit to secure their safety and their belongings. First, the landlord has a responsibility to maintain a safe way to exit the unit and/or building. This means that there can be no obstruction of a reasonable exit out of your home. There must also be 2 means of exiting your unit in case of a fire. One can be a window, but you must have access to the ground below and the window must be a certain size and type to allow you to get through it. Second, the landlord needs to install locks on doors and windows to prevent unlawful entry but those locks need to be uncomplicated so that you can escape if need be. Third the landlord has to provide your home with smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms. It is their duty to maintain and install such devices, and their failure to do so is likely a breach of your lease as well as a violation of Massachusetts Law

The above is a short explanation into your rights as a tenant in Massachusetts.  In general, Massachusetts law is very “tenant friendly”. It provides for penalties against landlords for certain violations, including giving tenants the right to withhold rent under certain circumstances if problems / violations are not fixed within a reasonable time after notifying the landlord of it. The Habitability laws of Massachusetts attempt to guarantee the basic necessities that our society expects each tenant to have. If you are concerned that your landlord has failed to meet his/her obligations under the law or your lease, or has violated your tenant rights, please do not hesitate to contact an attorney at The Jacobs Law, LLC.  We will try to resolve those issues for you and pursue a claim against your landlord if necessary.  However, above all else, you should never take any legal or financial action against your landlord without contacting a lawyer first.

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