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My Employer Provides Housing as Part of my Compensation of my Employment. If my Employment is Terminated can my Employer Throw me Out on the Street Without Taking me to Court?


As in many cases involving legal issues the answer to this question is it depends. Every person’s situation is different, so the answer depends on a number of factors.

One of the primary considerations involved in employee provided housing is whether or not there is a written agreement. If the agreement is specific and detailed, you may be considered a licensee and therefore, would not be considered a tenant, and thus have limited rights and remedies available to you.

Licensee v. Tenant

 

Licensee

A license is permission by an owner of property to use land for a limited purpose. A license to perform an act upon on another person’s property involves the exclusive occupation of the land by the licensee so far as is necessary to perform the act and nothing further. In the employee housing context, a license says the employee is here under the owner’s permission, and housing is connected directly to his or her employment. It’s easier to evict an employee if an employee occupies the housing under a license. A license merely excuses acts done by a licensee on land which remains in possession of another that without the license would be trespassing and conveys no interest in land. For instance, when you go to see the New England Patriots you are considered a licensee and your ticket is your license agreement. Generally, the contract controls under a license, however, even if you have a written agreement which states you may evict the licensee, utilizing judicial process is always best.

 

Tenant

If the party entering is to have exclusive possession of the premises against all the world including the owner, there is a tenancy. If there is a tenancy the eviction process must be used. In determining whether a license or tenancy is created, the courts look at the parties’ intentions and their objectives as evidenced by the circumstances and by the parties’ conduct. So even if your employer has a written agreement stating he or she has given you a mere “license” to occupy the premises, the courts still will look into the relationship and the parties. Also, it  is important to note even when an employer/landlord is attempting to remove a licensee the courts generally will favor injunctive relief via the housing court by way of a temporary restraining order (TRO) which is basically an order of the court ruling that; (1) There is a licensor-licensee relationship; (2) The employer has properly revoked the license; and (3) The licensee must vacate the premises.

Keeping all this in mind, The Massachusetts Courts have given some direction on this issue. The court’s rulings seem to indicate that an employee in this scenario has no independent right to remain on the property apart from his employment and would not be living in the house except for his employment, therefore a person is not a tenant, but a licensee whose right to occupy the premises was conditioned on his employment. However, the courts have also ruled that although a licensee may not have the status of a tenant, a licensee is not without rights. The Appeals Court has established that a licensee may be removed from premises by preliminary injunction. Beacon Park Assoc. v. Corbett, No. 96-J-693. Additionally, the Massachusetts Courts have gone a bit further and said that a licensee may be able to bring forth the same counterclaims available to tenants.

 

In the case of Mogilevsky v. Keating, No. 993656H, 2000 WL 420877(2000), the plaintiff, Boris Mogilevsky, was hired by Keating & Company, Inc. to act as a superintendent at 105–107 Beacon Street, Boston, Massachusetts in exchange for housing in the basement apartment. Under the terms of the agreement, in addition to housing, heat and hot water were to be provided by the landlord. While residing in the apartment, Mr. Mogilevsky had numerous issues with his apartment including dangerous conditions involving the stove within the apartment which was so bad the gas company had to come seal the stove! Also, throughout his occupancy there was inadequate heat, no hot water, and no running water in his kitchen sink. When Moglevsky complained about the bad conditions in his apartment Ms. Keating terminated his employment. Mogilevsky received a letter dated June 24, 1998 advising him that his position of superintendent was being eliminated and requesting that he move out before August 31, 1998.

The Superior Court in Mogilevsky gave clarification as to what rights a person has in this scenario, even if deemed a licensee. The Court found, as a matter of law, that the laws relative to requiring and securing the right to habitable premises are available to individuals who receive housing in exchange for services, even if those individuals are considered to be licensees. The court stated “Our laws relative to habitable housing use the words occupant and tenant. Where the term “occupant” is used, such as in the State Sanitary Code and the provisions of G.L.c. 186, § 14, the legislative intent is clear. Individuals such as Mogilevsky who receive housing in exchange for services are occupants and therefore, are covered by those provisions.” Mogilevsky v. Keating, No. 993656H, 2000 WL 420877, at *3 (Mass. Super. Feb. 11, 2000). The court in Mogilevsky went even further and ruled that the reprisal statute, G.L. c. 186 sec. 18 and the consumer protection statute. G.L. c. 93A are also remedies available to a person who has a status of licensee in this scenario.

 

This information does not constitute legal advice and is written for general information purposes only. Individuals should consult with a lawyer for specific legal advice.

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