Who regulates the landlord’s obligations regarding the upkeep of my apartment?
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health establishes regulations detailing the standards which must be maintained by the occupants and owners of housing. These regulations protect the health, safety and well-being of Massachusetts citizens and are found in Chapter II of the State Sanitary Code [105 CMR 410.000] entitled Minimum Standards of Fitness for Human Habitation.
The standards apply to every owner-occupied or rented dwelling, dwelling unit, mobile dwelling unit or rooming house unit in Massachusetts, which is used for living, sleeping, cooking and eating. These regulations have the force of law. Local boards of health have the primary responsibility for their enforcement.

What type of bad conditions constitute a breach of the implied warranty of habitability in Massachusetts?
The following are some common health code violations under The Massachusetts Code of Regulations 105 C.M.R. section 410.00

Not enough heat. Improper venting or use of space heater.
No electricity or gas. Inadequate electrical outlets.
No safe water supply.
No working toilet or sewage disposal system.
Inadequate exits, including the obstruction of any exit, passageway, or common area through which you exit in an emergency.
Accumulation of garbage or filth that may provide food or shelter for rodents, insects, or other pests; or that may contribute to accidents or disease.
Lead Paint that a child under 6 could reach 105 C.M.R. 460, G.L. c. sect. 190-199
No or not enough hot or cold water (including amount, pressure, and temperature) for 24 hours or longer.
No smoke detector or carbon monoxide alarm in good working order.
Any other violation of the Sanitary Code the inspector finds dangerous to health and safety.
Cockroach, insect, or rodent infestation in buildings with two or more units.
All sinks, landlord-installed refrigerators and stoves, and gas- and oil-burning equipment must be in good working condition.
From September 15 to May 31, the landlord must provide equipment and appliances to heat every “habitable room” and bathrooms to at least:
68 degrees Fahrenheit between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.
64 degrees Fahrenheit between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
“Habitable room” means any room to be used for living, sleeping, cooking, or eating.
Each room must have transparent or translucent glass that admits light from the outdoors. The glass must be equal in area to at least 8% of the floor area of that room. This does not apply to a bathroom or a kitchen smaller than 70 square feet.
No rats, roaches, mice, bedbugs, or other insects are allowed in the apartment or building. The landlord must exterminate them when they are found in common areas or in any individual apartment in buildings with two or more units.
In buildings with 3 or more units, the landlord is responsible for collecting and disposing of garbage.

Please note this is not a complete list of bad conditions and there are many issues that are still considered a breach of the implied warranty of habitability which are not codified. If you are living with an unpleasant and/or bad condition and believe it is a violation of your health, safety, and well-being it is important to speak with an experienced Attorney who can advise you of your options and rights. Please do not hesitate to call my office for a free consultation at 508.407.8338. Alternatively, you can contact the after-hours line 24/7 at 508-579-8333.

What are the proper steps I need to follow to get my landlord to repair the bad conditions in my apartment?

  1. Notify your landlord right away.

When you notice something in the house that needs to be repaired, notify your landlord right away about the problem so that he/she can fix it. It is always best to do so in writing. If it is an emergency, like your heat stops working or a water pipe bursts, contact your landlord immediately.

Make sure that your landlord gives you a timeframe in which he/she plans to make the repairs. This will vary depending on the urgency of the problem but should not be longer than 30 days from the time you notify him of the problem.

When you contact your landlord, be sure to tell him/her to let you know when the repair person will be coming to fix the problem, so that you can be there to let him/her in. This way, nobody can use the excuse that the repair wasn’t made on time because they couldn’t get into your apartment. For responsible landlords, simple notification should be enough to get the problem fixed within a reasonable amount of time.

Keep a log or journal of everything that occurs during this process. Include all conversations between you and your landlord, make note of all repairs made and other significant events. Dates are important so be sure to include dates! Be sure to make copies of all documents you give to your landlord, as well as inspection reports, repair receipts, and any other related documents you may receive. It is always best to communicate with your landlord in writing if possible. Emails are a great way to do this or even text communication. Should there ever be a dispute or you have to go to court, having these communications in writing will prove to be worth the trouble.

  1. second notice letter
    If you have already notified your landlord about the repair that needs to be made, and she/he hasn’t responded to you or has refused to make the repair within a reasonable amount of time (or refuses to do it all together); your next step is to write a formal letter asking him/her again to make the repair. The purpose of this step is to avoid claims that your landlord was never aware of the problem.

This letter should include information about what needs to be repaired, and that you already notified him/her of the problem on whatever date you did, but that she/he has failed to respond to your original request to fix it. Write that you expect him/her to inform you as soon as possible about when she/he plans to make the repair and include your phone number so that she/he can easily get in touch with you.

Keep a copy of the letter for your own records. If your landlord doesn’t respond to the letter, send an identical copy of it (with the original date) to your landlord by certified mail (from your local post office). Request a return receipt so that you can prove that he/she received the letter.

  1. Get an Inspection
    If you have given your landlord a chance to make the necessary repairs and she/he has either not responded or refused, getting your apartment inspected can be very helpful. You may choose to let your landlord know that you are having it done, but you are not required to.

Keep in mind, though that you can choose at any time to have your apartment inspected simply to find out whether it is in good condition or not.

Call your local Board of Health.

They will provide a free inspection to all tenants who request them. An inspector can determine if there are violations of the State Sanitary Code or Local Health Ordinances in your apartment, in the building’s common spaces, or in the exterior of the building. If there are violations, an inspector has the power to order your landlord to make repairs within a certain period of time. In many cases, landlords will then make the repairs.

At the end of the inspection, the inspector must give you a copy of his/her report. If they fail to give you a copy, ask for a copy. If the inspection reveals any violations that are so serious that they may “endanger or materially impair” your safety or well-being, the inspector must send a signed copy of the report and a repair order to your landlord within 12 hours of the inspection. This report should include a notice to the landlord to make a “good-faith effort” to correct these violations within 24 hours of receiving the notice. If the violations are not so serious, your landlord should receive a signed copy of the report as well as a repair order within 7 days of the inspection. The order should state that he should begin to make the repairs within 5 days of receiving the report, and that they should be completed within 30 days of receiving the report (or sooner if the inspector orders so). You should also receive copies of all of these documents within 7 days of the inspection. Save all of the documents for your own records.

If your landlord fails to correct any problem within the time the inspector ordered, contact the inspector. Inspectional Services is required to re-inspect the place to see if the repairs were made. You also have other options to get your landlord to take the repairs seriously.

  1. Call an Attorney
    If none of these measures work your best course of action is to call an experienced attorney who can advise you on how to proceed. As a tenant in Massachusetts, you have many rights. However, the laws are complex, and you will need an experienced attorney to assist you in navigating you through the legal process.

What is the rule on the temperature my landlord is required to keep my apartment at?
64 to 68 °F
Landlords must help the tenant maintain 64 to 68 °F from September 15 to May 31 under the MA heat laws. Massachusetts apartment heating laws are specified in the State Sanitary Code, officially 105 CMR 410 The Minimum Standards of Fitness for Human Habitation

In rooms requiring heat, there are three temperatures to know. You must be at least 64 °F starting at 11:01pm and running through 6:59am. You must be at least 68 °F between 7am and 11pm. And you may never exceed 78 °F.

Massachusetts landlords must provide heat for every habitable room and room with a toilet, shower, or bathtub.

Habitable rooms are defined as rooms intended for living, sleeping, cooking, or eating. Habitable rooms do not include rooms containing toilets, bathtubs, or showers, but these rooms must still be heated because they are listed specifically in the heating part of the code. Habitable rooms do not include laundries, foyers, communicating corridors, closets, or storage spaces. Since these rooms are not considered habitable and are not specifically listed in the heating part of the code, these kinds of rooms do not have to be heated.

Can a landlord enter my apartment without notifying me when I am not home?
Under Massachusetts law, the only instances when a landlord may enter into a rented residential property are as follows:

  • To inspect the premises;
  • To make repairs to the premises;
  • To show the same to a prospective tenant, purchaser, mortgagee or its agents;
  • Pursuant to a court order;
  • If the premises appear to have been abandoned by the tenant; or
  • Within the last 30 days of the tenancy or after either party has given notice of termination of the tenancy, to inspect the premises to determine if there is any damage that needs to be repaired, and if so, to estimate its cost.

Can a landlord just throw me out on the street for no reason?
Your landlord cannot simply throw you and/or your belongings out on the street. Even if the landlord potentially has grounds to evict you, any evictions must go through a notice period and summary process in the housing court system. A landlord, on his or her own (without the Court’s permission), cannot unilaterally remove you from your apartment.

Should I inspect the property before I move in?
Before you move into your home, jointly inspect the property with your landlord to identify whether there are any pre-existing damages or other issues with the rental unit. This will protect both you and your landlord, and also likely satisfy certain conditions concerning security deposits and damage notifications that you both must follow. It is better to over-document any damage or issues that you come across during the joint inspection.

Can I stop an eviction once I have been served with a notice to quit?
That depends on the reason for the eviction.

If the eviction is for nonpayment of rent and you have a lease, you may stop the eviction by paying the full amount owed. If you have already received a summons and complaint, you must pay the rent owed, any accrued interest and your landlord’s court costs by the answer date in order to stop the eviction.

If the eviction is for nonpayment of rent and you do not have a lease, you may stop the eviction by paying the full amount owed within 10 days of receiving the eviction notice. You do not have a right to stop the eviction, however, if you received a previous eviction notice for not paying rent within the past 12 months.

You can also defend against or postpone the eviction by filing in court your defense or counterclaim, which could include a number of reasons including but not limited to a violation of the sanitary code, breach of the rental agreement, unlawful discrimination, or an eviction is based on your status as a victim of domestic violence. Under certain circumstances you may also ask the court to postpone the eviction for up to six months; or 12 months if a resident of the premises is disabled.

What can I do if I disagree with the security deposit amount that was kept or refunded?
You may send your landlord a security deposit demand letter that explains why you believe you are entitled to the return of any additional amount of your security deposit. You should mail this letter by both certified and first-class mail. Your landlord must respond within 30 days with a reasonable offer of settlement. If you don’t believe the offer is reasonable, or if the landlord does not respond, you may bring a court action. If the court determines that the landlord withheld more of the security deposit than he or she was entitled to, or that the landlord did not respond to your demand letter with a reasonable offer of settlement, you may be entitled to treble (triple) damages, costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.

Can I withhold rent?
If your landlord is not living up to the requirements of the warranty of habitability, or not satisfying other conditions as required by law, you might be entitled to withhold some of your rental payments. There are, however, very specific state laws concerning the handling of withheld rental payments including written notices that you must provide to your landlord and what situations actually permit you to withhold rental payments from your landlord.

Can my landlord raise my rent even if I don’t agree with the increase?
A tenancy is a legal contract between the landlord and tenant, and it cannot be unilaterally changed by one party alone. The landlord and tenant can agree to a rent increase by making a new legal contract, and payment of increased rent evidences a new contract. But as long as the tenant is paying the old contract rent, the landlord is not entitled to end the tenancy for non-payment of rent, and the landlord is not entitled to increased rent. If the tenant doesn’t agree to the rent increase, the landlord may end a tenancy-at-will by a general “30 days” written notice to quit, which may include an offer to establish a new tenancy at a higher rent. If the tenant doesn’t agree to the rent increase, the landlord may then file a summary process (eviction) case.

Can a tenant be required to pay for the electricity in common areas of the building?
Your landlord may require that you pay for common area lighting, but 105 CMR 410.254 but requires that your landlord may do so only if:

  1. The building has less than than 4 units.
  2. There is a written agreement stating that you’re responsible for paying your unit’s electric service, to which the common area lighting is wired.
  3. The landlord informs the occupants of the other units that you’re paying for the lights in the common area.
    Under the State Sanitary Code, the owner or landlord of rental housing is required to provide and pay for these essential utilities, unless there are separate meters for each unit and a written rental agreement that provides for payment by the occupant.

Am I entitled to interest on my last month’s rent or security deposit? When and how much?
Yes. On the anniversary date of payment of the last month’s rent or security deposit, at the rate of 5 percent per year or the actual rate of the bank’s escrow account.

Can a landlord require a tenant to pre-pay rent?
No, it is unlawful for a landlord to require a tenant to pre-pay rent. Under Massachusetts law a landlord is allowed to collect the first month’s rent, last month’s rent, security deposit (not to exceed one month’s rent), and the cost of changing the locks. This is the total amount a landlord is allowed to charge the tenant before moving in.

What are heat requirements in a rental unit?
The owner shall provide heat in every habitable room and every room containing a toilet, shower, or bathtub to at least 68°F (20° C) between 7:00 A.M. and 11:00 P.M. and at least 64°F (17° C) between 11:01 P.M. and 6:59 A.M. every day other than during the period from May 31st to September 15th.

Are there any forbidden conditions that a landlord cannot put in a rental agreement?
Every rental agreement must have certain terms and is prohibited from containing certain other terms.

The lease must include the name, address, and phone number of the owner, the person responsible for maintenance, and the person to whom the tenant can give copies of formal notices, complaints, or court papers.

If the landlord receives a security deposit, the lease or rental agreement must show the amount paid and must explain the tenant’s rights to that security deposit money.
The landlord must make sure that the tenant is given a legible copy of the lease or rental agreement. The lease must not include illegal terms such as:

  • The tenant must pay for the cost of repairing ordinary wear and tear to the apartment.
  • The tenant must pay for repairs to parts of the building beyond the tenant’s apartment.
  • The tenant may not sue the landlord or report violations of the Sanitary Code.
  • The tenant may not join a tenants’ union.
  • The tenant must pay a late fee if a rent payment is even one day late. (A lease or rental agreement may permit the landlord to charge a late fee if a rent payment is 30 or more days late.)

Payments at the start of tenancy
A landlord may only ask for the following payments up front:

  • The first month’s rent
  • A security deposit (which cannot be more than one month’s rent) to cover the cost of any damage to the apartment beyond normal wear and tear
  • The last month’s rent (the month that will turn out to be the tenant’s last one in the apartment, not necessarily the last month on the lease)
  • The cost of a new lock and key for the apartment

The landlord should provide a signed receipt for any payment that is made with cash or a money order. The receipt must include the amount paid and the date the payment was made, and a description of what the payment was for. The receipt should also include the landlord’s name, the tenant’s name, and the name of the person to whom the payment was given.

How long does my landlord have to fix my heat?
Lack of heat falls into a special category of urgent problems that can “materially endanger” the tenant (hurt them, kill them or make them sick) and such issues must be fixed within 24 hours. Winter cold can actually kill people, so the law takes this seriously.

Other 24-hour repairs include: no water, no electricity, smoke/CO detectors not working, exit blocked (fire hazard), door lock broken, backed up toilet (disease risk), rats, lead paint a child might be eating, etc. Basically, anything that can harm you physically, kill you or cause disease must be dealt within 24hrs. The courts vary in how much they enforce various things on the 24h list, but lack of heat is considered one of the real biggies and is taken quite seriously.

***These answers do not constitute legal advice and are written for general information purposes only. Individuals should consult with a lawyer for specific legal advice. ***

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