Unfair or Deceptive Practices

Under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act (Chapter 93A) it is illegal for a landlord to use any unfair or deceptive act against you or anyone in your house.

Under G.L. c. 93A, a landlord is liable to the tenant for damages if the landlord is in the business of renting residential property and has engaged in an unfair and deceptive act. If the unfair or deceptive act was knowing and/or willful, the court must, without discretion, award multiple actual damages as well as attorney’s fees. Montanez v. Bagg 24 Mass. App Ct. 954 (1987).

If your landlord acts in an unfair or deceptive way and this causes you to be “injured,” you can take him/her to court, and possibly get money damages against him/her. An injury can include not only actual out of pocket loss, but other types of harm, such as emotional distress. You may also be entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees and the amount of your actual loss. If you can show that your landlord should have known his/her acts were unfair or deceptive, you can sometimes get double or triple the amount of your money damages.

Not all landlords, however, are covered by the Consumer Protection Act. If you live in a 2- or 3-family building and the landlord lives in the building with you, the Consumer Protection Act may not apply.

An unfair or deceptive act can be any action that violates existing laws or regulations that protect your health, safety, or welfare. This can include:

  • Violations of the local building codes, housing codes, and state Sanitary Code;
  • Violations of the Attorney General’s consumer protection regulations;
  • Retaliation;
  • Unfair debt collection practices;
  • Refusing to make repairs after the landlord has notice;
  • Violating your right to quiet enjoyment;
  • Breaching the warranty of habitability;
  • A violation of the Massachusetts the security deposit law;
  • Sending you documents that look like court papers, but are not;
  • Using illegal terms in your lease;
  • Omitting from your lease the name, address, or phone number of the landlord or manager for your building; or
  • Failure to give you a copy of your lease within 30 days after you signed it.

Demand Letter
To recover damages under the Consumer Protection Act, the law requires that you first send your landlord a written demand letter at least 30 days before you file a lawsuit. If the landlord fails to respond to your letter in writing after 30 days, you can bring forth suit under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Statute. If the landlord does respond to your letter, but you do not think the offer is reasonable, you may still sue, but you may be limited to whatever amount the landlord offered you in the landlord’s response. If the landlord’s refusal to settle was willful or in bad faith, you can collect up to two or three times the amount you are demanding, plus reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs.

An important caveat to the demand letter requirement is when a landlord has initiated an eviction action against a tenant and the tenant pursues this as a counter claim, there is no requirement for a demand letter.

If you believe your landlord is has violated your rights under the Consumer Protection Statute, it is important to speak with an experienced attorney who knows the law and will fight for your rights. It is not uncommon for the court to order that the landlord is responsible for the tenant’s attorney’s fees in the appropriate circumstances. Therefore, you may not have to pay your attorney anything to take on your case. I have much success in this area of my practice. Call my office at (508)-753-1807 to set up a free consultation. I can also be reached at Jonathan@jdmolleurlaw.com. Alternatively, I can be reached directly on my personal cell at (508)-579-8333.

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