Landlords must clear snow and ice after a snowstorm or risk legal liability

By | landlord tenant, massachusetts tenant rights, Renting | No Comments


Property owners must clear the sidewalks and common areas after a snow stormI was walking down Columbus Avenue in Boston’s South End neighborhood Sunday after enjoying a wonderful Jazz Brunch at Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen.   It had snowed the previous morning leaving some sidewalks clear of snow and ice, while others had a layer of ice that made walking hazardous.

Sure enough, as my brunch crew was walking, my friend Sam nearly took a really bad spill. His knee twisted and he, luckily, caught himself before sustaining a more serious injury.

This incident made me think: Does a property owner owe their tenants and public pedestrians any duty to clear snow and ice in Massachusetts? And If so how soon during or after the snowstorm should the snow be cleared?

The answer is yes! The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Papadopoulos v. Target, 457 Mass. 368 (July 26, 2010) ruled that property owners ARE liable if an injury results due to their failure to remove snow and ice.

Further, landlords MUST keep the common areas and sidewalks free of ice and snow accumulation pursuant to the Massachusetts State Sanitary Code regulation 410.452.  UNLESS they have a written agreement with the tenant, for the tenant to keep the area clear of snow and ice.

For tenants, a landlord’s failure to clear snow and ice would constitute a breach of warranty of habitability. Depending on the duration of the neglect, it could rise to a breach of quiet enjoyment. Damages for breach of quiet enjoyment are three times one month’s rent plus attorney fees.

For pedestrians who may be walking across someone’s property and fall, the property owner will be liable if the property owner failed to:

“. . . act as a reasonable person under all of the circumstances including the likelihood of injury to others, the probable seriousness of such injuries, and the burden of reducing or avoiding the risk” Papadopoulos v. Target Corp., 457 Mass. at 383 (quoting Young v. Garwacki, 380 Mass. 162, 169 (1980)).

In plain English, that means: if there are ice and snow on a person’s sidewalk well after a snowstorm and a pedestrian injures herself on it, the property owner is liable.   While the court was silent on the property owner’s duty to remove snow and ice during a snowstorm, property owners are well advised to remove snow as it accumulates rather than risk legal liability.

If you are a tenant and your landlord is not removing snow and ice, get in contact today.

If you’re a pedestrian and you have slipped on ice, get in contact to discuss your injury.


Massachusetts Law About Apartment Heat: A Tenant’s Guide

By | Consumer Protection, massachusetts tenant rights, Renting | No Comments

 

NOTE: When I originally made this video, my office was located at 45 Prospect St. in Cambridge.  I have moved to 22 Boston Wharf Road Boston MA 02210 (Seaport District).  While my location has changed, the offer to come by and have coffee and discuss your issue still stands.  

If you need help with your apartment heat, please get in touch now

As a Tenant, you have a Right to Heat

As anyone who has experienced a New England winter can tell you, adequately heating your apartment is a necessity in Massachusetts. Every landlord must pay for heating its apartment if there is no written agreement between the landlord and the tenant stating otherwise.  If the owner is not paying for heat: the landlord is violating the Massachusetts- Consumer Protection law and possibly breaching the tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment of the apartment.From 16th of September through 14th of June, each room must be heated to at least 68 degrees between 7am, and 11pm

If you are a tenant facing problems with your heat, the time to act is now. By taking the necessary precautions, you can ensure that your issue will be resolved as soon as possible.

Chapter II of the State Sanitary Code is the basis for Landlord accountability. From 16th of September through 14th of June, each room must be heated to at least 68 degrees between 7 am, and 11 pm. At night the minimum temperature is 64 degrees. Unless otherwise stated and agreed upon under lease, the landlord is responsible for supplying the heat.

Under the State Sanitary Code, the tenant’s agreement to pay for utilities must be included in the written lease, and the utilities must be separately metered, not only for each unit but also separately from the common area utilities

For Example, you sign a lease with your landlord. It does not mention who pays for electric or heat. The owner must pay for power and heat.

If the heat goes off, a landlord must be notified of their responsibility to take action. If The severity are unresponsive and the problem remains neglected, your local code enforcement agency should inspect the premises. It is fundamental to begin a written record of landlord negligence as soon as you notice a problem developing.

For example, let’s say you are watching a movie with your family on a cold December night. The living room becomes colder and colder. After feeling the heating vents, you realize that there is no heat coming from them.   What should you do?

  • Call the landlord and inform them of the issue.
  • Write the landlord an email or letter stating what the problem is.

Report it the lack of heat to the board of health and put your complaints to the landlord in writing

Make Sure to Communicate with your Landlord in Writing

You need to have a written record. If the landlord does not provide a response, you will need a WRITTEN record that you gave notice to the landlord of the problem. Verbal notice is not enough; it MUST BE IN WRITING.

Have the Board of Health Do an Inspection

Every Massachusetts community has a Board of Health or Inspectional Services Department. It is in your best interest to schedule this inspection from the appropriate department within 24 hours as required by the state sanitary code. The inspector will take a temperature reading and leave you a copy of the inspection report. If a violation is found, a written order should be sent to you and your landlord via the postal service. It is possible to contact local police to take a temperature reading at night or on weekends when Enforcement Departments are closed.

You may be able to withhold rent

The case becomes eligible for rent withholding if your problem extends beyond an isolated heat outage. Chronic issue warrants involvement of legal counsel should you choose to defend yourself. Creating personal and public record of temperature issues is essential for litigious resolution. Call local enforcement and track complaints, as these prove your claim in court. If your testimony is required in court, it is prudent to be as accurate as possible with your personal temperature log.

Readings should record the date, time, and location of each measurement five feet up from the floor and five in from any outside wall. A permanently placed thermometer is ideal. Essentially, failure to provide adequate heat is a “breach of warranty of habitability.” By law, you are allowed to take deductions from your rent. You are protected against eviction only if you follow the rules:

You inform your landlord in writing that you are deducting rent due to the failure to provide heat on or before your rent is due.

You must be able to show the nature and extent of the lack of heat through record keeping.Make sure to keep a written record of what the temperature was and on what date. Take pictures as part of that record

Oral communication is insufficient, whereas maintained written records show a conscientious effort to abide by your rights under the law. This letter should be sent well before the rent is due, and should be dated and filed along with your other records.


If you choose to withhold rent, the money should be set aside. You are entitled to a reduction of rent, called an “abatement,” for time spent without adequate heat. The settlement with the landlord over back rent will negotiate this reduction. Once the condition has been corrected, rent is expected to continue as originally agreed upon. There is no exact rule for determining an abatement, besides the general estimate that an apartment without heat is worth one-fourth to one-half its normal value. The severity of the cold should correspond with your withholding percentage.

Proper procedure will provide protection if the landlord brings eviction proceedings against you. Depending on the strength of your case, a lawyer often chooses to represent you on a “contingency fee.” The attorney’s fee in this insistence will come out of money awarded from the landlord. The court may offer to awards attorney’s fees in some circumstance. Damages can be collected from the owner if they try to evict, or raise rent within six months of a reported code violation to enforcement agencies. You are often entitled to both damages and attorney’s fees. Lastly, remember that it is illegal for the landlord to shut off utilities or lock you out of the apartment. Knowing your rights and the proper way to protect yourself will see you through this issue. Please contact Doubledaw Law should you have any questions about landlord-tenant law in Massachusetts.


Wrongful Termination Case

By | Contracts, Real Estate Law | No Comments

 

A Complex Wrongful Termination Case

For anyone who feels they were wrongfully terminated from their job, the following case, involving a plaintiff’s claim that her employment was terminated because of her race, involves many different legal concepts and rulings. Because of that complexity, it can be highly instructive.

We’ve summarized the main proceedings of the case and provided a second section listing important employee takeaways from the rulings. If you’re in a position where you feel wrongfully terminated, or simply want to know your rights and precedents, read on.

Michele Dimanche v. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA)

Plaintiff Michele Dimanche, in her legal action, alleges that her supervisors at MBTA conspired to terminate her employment because of her race. Dimanche is a black woman of Haitian descent who worked as a motor person on the MBTA Green Line from 2000 until 2013. What caused Dimanche’s suspension and termination was an incident on January 25, 2013, involving a co-worker, another black Haitian woman. Both women claimed that the other was the instigator who yelled, spat, cursed and continued the fight form the office into the lobby.

The event was witnessed by many MBTA employees and the other woman reported the incident to a supervisor. Both women were suspended during the investigation of the affair. By the time of the altercation, Dimanche had already received four disciplinary warnings and a five-day suspension. MBTA’s regulations provided the possibility of termination for a fifth infraction. She was suspended for thirty days and then terminated. Dimanche insisted that the five previous disciplinary rulings were fabricated or distorted out of proportion.

On January 8, 2015, Dimanche filed suit in federal court on three counts: 1) racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981; 2) racial discrimination under Massachusetts General Law ch. 151B. § 4; and 3) intentional infliction of emotional distress. The complaint stated that MBTA “subjected Ms. Dimanche to racial discrimination as a means to humiliate and ultimately terminate her.” It also labeled six co-workers and supervisors as the ones conducting the racial harassment.

Although the MBTA was correctly served on February 20, 2015, they failed to file a timely answer due to a clerical error. The district court entered a default for Dimanche (when a defendant fails to respond to a claim in the time set by law) on June 2, 2015. One week later, the MBTA filed a motion to set aside the default which was denied by the district court. On July 31, 2015, the MBTA refiled the motion to set aside the default and in September, the district court lifted the default over Dimanche’s objections. On February 10, 2016, Dimanche moved to clarify the scope of the sanctions. This was denied on February 26, 2016.

The trial began on October 17, 2016. Dimanche took the stand and produced two former co-workers and her psychiatrist as witnesse. The MBTA presented nine witnesses including three who witnessed the fight. Dimanche and her witnesses alleged that a couple of white inspectors referred to her as a “black bitch” and made fun of her Haitian accent. She claimed a supervisor refused to process her complaints. Although MBTA testified about its disciplinary policy, the altercation incident and the investigation, and the resulting decision to terminate Dimanche, they did not address her specific claims of racial harassment.

On October 20, 2016, the jury ruled in favor of Dimanche assessing MBTA for over $1.3 million in compensatory damages and $1.3 million in punitive damages. The MBTA appealed the decision based on three reasons: 1) there was insufficient evidence to support the jury verdict; 2) the district judge committed reversible error, and 3) the court lacked sufficient subject matter jurisdiction. Regarding reason #2, the MBTA claimed that the trial judge made two basic errors. One was that he imposed a very severe punitive sanction as the price for removing MBTA’s accidental default. The other was that the hostile work environment charge was only added on the last day of the trial. Regarding reason #3, the MBTA brought up the court’s decision in the Buntin case which held that “a plaintiff may not bring claims for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 against state actors, including defendants sued in their official capacities as government officials.”

The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s ruling. The asserted that MBTA did not make the appropriate objections and offers of proof. The Court of Appeals did agree that the trial judge committed an error in imposing the default sanction order. However, they did not agree with MBTA’s claim that the trial judge was prejudiced by either the default sanction order or the late hostile work environment charge. They also waived MBTA’s argument on the Buntin case regarding no plaintiff claims for damages for state actors and officials.

Employee Takeaways

For those employees who feel they were wrongfully terminated or who feel that an unfair termination is a risk, this case provides some valuable lessons.

These include:

  • Know the laws—The more you know about legal processes involved in termination cases, different types of discrimination, sexual harassment, and other personnel-related issues, the better off you will be. This case is particularly instructive because of the many legal and administrative concepts involved including employer policies on termination, the process of filing suit in court, what can qualify as racial discrimination, the defendant’s responsibility to file a timely answer to a court serving, default, sanctions, the role of witnesses, compensatory and punitive damages, the referencing of prior cases, and the appeal process. Studying recent cases of wrongful termination can be helpful. Become familiar with the legal concepts and lexicon.
  • Make your complaints and document everything—If you feel that as an employee something has been done to you unfairly by the employer of a co-worker, follow the due process of the complaint procedure. This creates a record no matter if the complaint goes unheeded. Also, document these cases of unfair treatment and discrimination. Include the names of the offenders and the dates they happened. You will likely need all of this information if your employment situation becomes more serious.
  • Gather your witnesses—In this case, Dimanche was able to really on testimony from two former co-workers and her treating psychiatrist. It is very possible that their testimony may have made the difference in the rulings of this case.

There is no question that employers can be unfair in their dealings with employees. History is rife with examples of employer unfair treatment, discrimination, and harassment. However, this does not mean that you are powerless in these situations. What can help you is your knowledge of company policy, legal issues involved in wrongful termination cases, your following of due process with any complaints, and your accurate documentation of events?

Got a question? Call us, we can help.

 

A Mistake, But Not Discrimination

By | Renting | No Comments

 

Any reasonably well-informed Massachusetts landlord knows that the law forbids discrimination in the rental of a residential unit based on the prospective tenant’s race, national origin, religion, disability, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity. A person who believes he or she has been the victim of unlawful housing discrimination may file a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. Although many complaints are resolved informally, the Commission does have authority to hold public hearings in which each side is allowed to tell its story under oath. The Commission may then issue an administrative order based on its findings.

Claims of housing discrimination against couples with young children are not unusual. A recent Commission case arose out of just such a complaint by a couple against a landlord’s rental agent. The couple claimed that the agent refused to rent an apartment to them once he saw that the wife was pregnant. The agent explained that the unit probably contained lead-based paint, plaster or dust. He told the couple that Massachusetts law prohibits leasing of a lead-contaminated property to a family with young children.

The Commission’s opinion points out that if the agent’s understanding was correct, landlords could defer indefinitely correcting lead paint hazards by simply rejecting applicants with (or who are expecting) children. Indeed, said the Commission, the Massachusetts Lead-Based Paint Law closes this very loophole. It thereby effectively forces landlords to identify and eliminate any lead poisoning hazards before putting a rental property on the market.

Although the Commission found that the agent’s error was an honest mistake, it nevertheless issued an order directing him to stop repeating his incorrect statements regarding lead paint hazards to future rental applicants.

Since the Commission found that the agent acted in good faith, one might expect that the complaint would be dismissed then and there. However, the Commission went on to consider the agent’s assertion that the lead paint mix-up was actually irrelevant because he had in fact rejected the couple’s application due to insufficient proof of income.

This, in turn, made what would otherwise have been a minor bit of information significant – the fact that the agent held the application open for several weeks. The agent explained that he did so in order to give the couple a chance to gather proof. The Commission reasoned that because the wife’s pregnancy was immediately apparent if the agent had indeed intended to discriminate against her on that basis he would have had no reason to hold the application open.  

 

The Lesson for Landlords and Agents

 

This case demonstrates that intent is subjective and that claims of illegal discrimination are not typically based on overt words or actions. Rather, bias is nearly always inferred from the fact that the conduct in question has no other reasonable explanation. Thus, for example, a landlord can violate the law without ever admitting to a racist motive if he agrees to rent to a Caucasian individual but rejects an equally qualified African-American applicant.

The case also reminds us that a clear conscience – that is, a subjective absence of discriminatory intent – alone may not be enough to overcome a claim of discrimination. Landlords and their agents must always remember the importance of adequately documenting the justification for rejecting a prospective tenant’s application.    

 

Give me a call. (617) 575 2006.   We can talk about this. I do not charge for the initial consultation. I love talking and helping people. Even times when I’m not able to take your case or I don’t think it’s appropriate and I can at least give you some guidance and some advice and hopefully make you better off for it. (617) 575-2006. Hope all is well and have a great day.

 


Rights to Continuance

By | landlord tenant | No Comments

 

 

 

 

 

Rights to Continuance

In a residential summary process case, a landlord sought possession because they accused the tenant of continuing to stay in their home after their lease term had ended. The tenant was in compliance with all other terms set forth by their tenancy. In this case, the trial judge ruled in favor of the landlord but erred in denying the request the tenant made for a continuance so that they could obtain legal counsel.

An appeal was filed, presenting the issue that the trial judge allegedly abused his discretion when he moved to deny the tenant’s request. The trial judge had denied the request the tenant made for continuance yet when doing so, the judge made no reference to the factors he was basing his decision on. Rather, he claimed that the tenant had no defense. The trial judge even made this statement before hearing any evidence that the tenant may have presented.

Prior to reviewing evidence, the trial judge explained that the case was a no-fault eviction and the tenant had no defenses. The tenant only had the representation of the landlord’s counsel when the judge stated this.

Following this statement, an undisputed point was raised that the tenant held a Section 8 voucher granted by the local housing authorities. However, presenting information that could work in either party’s favor, it was found that there was no proof any lease had ever existed–or that its term had expired, as the landlord argued.

If the lease had expired, the landlord likely would not be required to show a “good cause” for the eviction or prove that it was for a “non­discriminatory business reason” since the lease had come to an end. However, there was no such evidence.

In general, a tenant occupying public and subsidizing housing is given more procedural protection than a tenant of private housing who is facing an eviction. The tenant of a state or federally funded public housing location cannot be evicted under the law without good cause.

After denying the tenant’s request for a continuance so they could engage counsel, the court chose to accept the landlord’s assertion that it was a no-fault eviction, although no lease could be examined proving such.

Prior to the proceedings, the judge claimed that the tenant had waived his right to be represented by counsel when he failed to obtain representation from the attorney who was present the morning of the trial. However, this was not the case. Moreover, the court initially felt inclined to continue the trial for a week but ended up not doing so because the landlord’s counsel would not be available for three weeks following the trial.

During this bench trial, it was found that the tenant was current with his rent, other than an increase of $400.00 that the landlord had requested he paid each month. There were no witnesses and the outcome likely would turn had a lease been presenting showing whether or not the term had expired.

Pursuant to G.L.c. 239, §9, the tenant would be entitled to seek a stay as long as twelve months since he was over sixty years old, was a tenant for more than ten years at the location, and was otherwise current on his rent. This would be true even if the trial had been continued and the landlord prevailed.

Clearly, the trial judge had an error in judgment and abused his discretion by denying the tenant’s request for continuance under the circumstances. As such, the judgment has been vacated and the case will return for a new trial.

 

Contact Us Today

[contact-form-7 404 "Not Found"]

Can my landlord just kick me out? No!

By | landlord tenant | No Comments

Hello everyone, this is Arthur Hardy-Doubleday, attorney at law. I’d like to talk to you today about MGL 186 s.15(f). The reason I want to talk to you about this particular subsection of Landlord-Tenant law is it has recently come up in my practice.    Landlords in Massachusetts are prohibited from self-help remedies. This means when a landlord tells you to get out, all they have done is breathed in oxygen and spit out carbons.  You do not have to leave.

You come home one day and the keys to your apartment or the lock to your apartment has been changed.   Specifically MGL 186 s15(f) prohibits that type of behavior. If a landlord wants to get you out, the landlord has to serve you with a notice to quit. That’s either in compliance with the law or with the lease that is compliant to the law.

So if you, if you don’t have a lease, the notice to quit has to either be a 30-day notice which is a no-fault notice to quit, or a 14-day notice to quit, if you owe money.  If you have a lease, the notice to quit will be in compliance with both the law and the least, sometimes in leases rather than 14 days. It can be quicker or longer depending on what the landlord’s preferences for these types of situations. The point in all of this is, is that if your landlord has told you that you have to leave.  That’s all they have done.

That’s all they’ve done. They’ve just took in oxygen and then put out carbons. They haven’t actually done anything. They’ve only told you something. Landlords have to serve tenants with a notice to quit. After that notice quit expires they must have you served with a summons timely.  And lastly file summons in court with in the time period prescribed by law.

So if you’ve received a text message or an email or your landlord shouting at you from the street saying you have to get out, you can just ignore all that. And I’d like you to call me (617) 575-2006.    We can talk about what your rights are and how to respond to the landlord.

Furthermore, if you come home one day and had been changed, Your landlord is in violation of MGL 186 s 15(f), which requires that the landlord changes the locks on you. The landlord will be liable for three times either the rent the damages sustained by you, the tenant, the cost of the suit and attorney’s fees.

In Massachusetts, we do not tolerate landlords that resort to self-help remedies. It is strictly forbidden.

Give me a call. (617) 575 2006.   We can talk about this. I do not charge for the initial consultation. I love talking and helping people. Even times when I’m not able to take your case or I don’t think it’s appropriate and I can at least give you some guidance and some advice and hopefully make you better off for it. (617) 575-2006. Hope all is well and have a great day.

[contact-form-7 404 "Not Found"]

Tenant Beats Landlord in Eviction Case Asserting Landlord’s Misuse of his Security Deposit as a Defense and Counter Claim

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

If you need help getting your security deposit, please get in touch  

A District Court Appellate Division recently reversed a district court judge’s award of possession to a landlord in an eviction trial. In Duff v. Pouliot, et al. the Appellate court found that the Landlord was in violation of the security deposit statue thereby entitling the Tenant to possession of the apartment.

During the original trial, the Tenant countersued the landlord when the landlord tried to evict him. The Tenant alleged four violations by the Landlord of the security deposit statute, G.L.c. 186, §15B:

failure to place the deposit in a separate bank account;
failure to pay or deduct the Tenants’s yearly interest;
failure to provide the Tenant with required receipts; and
failure to provide the Tenant with a statement of conditions.

The appeals court corrected the district court judge finding that the district court judge made a mistake when he found the landlord in violation of the security deposit law but did not award the Tenant possession.

The appeals court reasoned a violation of the security deposit statute may be asserted as a defense to an eviction, citing Meikle v. Nurse, 474 Mass. 207, 214 (2016). In Meikle, the Court stated, ‘Where a Tenant prevails on a defense or counterclaim and is awarded damages in an amount less than the amount owed to the Landlord, the statute [G.L.c. 239, §8A] provides that ‘no judgment shall enter until after the expiration of the time for such payment and the Tenant has failed to make such payment.’

What that means is, when Tenants assert a defense to eviction and wins on that defense, no matter how minor, Tenants can stay in their apartment if they pay the difference between what is owed in rent and what they were awarded in the judgment.

The moral of this story is that a Landlord still runs the risk of being defeated in eviction for even the most minor violation of the security deposit statute. Often, it’s this “low hanging fruit” as I like to refer to it, that is the Tenant’s best defense to an eviction.

If you are in the process of being evicted, please get in touch today to see if Doubleday Law can help you.

SJC Clarifies when a Landlord Owes A Tenant Trebles Damages in a Security Deposit Case

By | Real Estate Law, Renting, Security Deposit, Uncategorized | No Comments

Let us help you get your deposit back

When a tenant vacates an apartment, the Massachusetts Security Deposit Law permits a landlord to deduct the price of repairs from the security deposit, as long as the landlord gives the tenant a statement of itemized damages along with repair quotes within 30 days of the tenant vacating the apartment.

Many landlords have a hard time complying with this requirement for one reason or another. Often, landlords have not been able to get quotes for repairs before the 30-day period has elapsed.

The failure of the landlord to provide the itemized list of repairs within 30 days often leads tenants to believe that their landlord now owes them three times the deposit as per the Massachusetts Security Deposit Law. However, the Supreme Judicial Court disagrees.

In Phillips v. Equity Residential Management LLC, the landlord deducted $968.08 in carpet and other cleaning fees from a tenant’s security deposit. While the landlord did give a list of repairs to the tenant, it wasn’t sworn to under pains and penalties of perjury, within 30 days of termination of occupancy. The statement listed charges totaling $968.08 and stated that Phillips owed a balance of $ 218.02. The tenant filed a class action lawsuit seeking the return of their deposit, triple damages, and attorneys’ fees under the statute.

A guarantor of the lease, Phillips’s father, notified Equity that it was in violation of the Massachusetts Security Deposit Law.

On August 6, 2013, Phillips filed a class action complaint in the Superior Court, alleging that Equity had violated the law by

(1) The statement and attached document were not correctly signed and guaranteed to under the pains and penalties of perjury,

(2) Fund failed to offer adequate documentation to support the fees which were deducted from the deposition,

(3) Equity impermissibly deducted cleaning charges from the deposit, and

(4) Equity failed to return the deposit within 30 days after the conclusion of this tenancy.

The landlord removed the case to the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, citing the Federal Class Action Fairness Act of 2005.

The Massachusetts Security Deposit Law requires that a landlord must provide the tenant with an itemized record, signed under the pains and penalties of perjury, in addition to written proof of the price of repairs. Violations of this second obligation, like violations of the first, also lead to forfeiture of the entire security deposit. There are a few violations of this statue, including the taking of deductions that are prohibited by the law that lead to a tenant being entitled to treble damages, interest, court costs, and attorney’s fees.

In this case, the landlord delivered an itemized list of damages to the tenant within 30 days, but the list was not signed under pains and penalties of perjury, wasn’t sufficiently comprehensive and was unsupported by written proof of the expenses of repairs.  All these failings lead to the forfeiture of its right to keep any part of Phillips’s safety deposit.

SJC held that the Legislature when drafting the Security Deposit Law, did not intend for the treble damages provision to apply to a landlord’s violation of the requirements for an itemized list. Further, it stated that the treble damages provision would only apply to deductions that were not the following:

(i) any unpaid rent or water charges which have not been validly withheld or deducted pursuant to any general or special law,

(ii) any unpaid increase in real estate taxes which the tenant is obligated to pay pursuant to a tax escalation clause; and,

(iii) a reasonable amount necessary to repair any damage caused to the dwelling unit by the tenant

It’s important to note that a landlord that does not deposit a security deposit into an escrow account would be liable for treble damages if the landlord fails to return the deposit after the tenant makes a demand.

Also, note that the law requires landlords to provide a “statement of condition” at the beginning of the tenancy. Failure to do so will require the landlord to return the deposit upon demand.


Massachusetts’ Tenant Friendly Security Deposit Law

By | landlord tenant, massachusetts tenant rights | One Comment

The Massachusetts Security Deposit Law is one of the most tenant friendly statutes in the United States.  Many lawyers advise their landlord clients not to take security deposits because staying in compliance with the statute is not easy.  Further, a violation of the statute may award tenants three times their deposit plus attorney fees.

 

Key Issues to Keep In mind:

  • The security deposit cannot exceed the amount of the first month’s rent.
  • The receipt for the security deposit must include the following information:
  1. The amount of the deposit and what it is for;
  2. The name of the person receiving it (if an agent receives, then also the name of the landlord or owner);
  3. The date on which it was received; and
  4. A description of the premises.
  5. Signed by the owner or the owner’s authorized agent.
    • A landlord MUST keep the tenant’s security deposit in an interests bearing account.
    • Within 30 days of receiving the security deposit the landlord must provide the account number, name and address of the bank holding the funds.
    • At either the time of receiving or within ten days after the tenancy begins, give the tenant a “Statement of Condition,” signed by the landlord,
    • The landlord must give the tenant an annual statement about the interests earned on said account.
    • Within thirty days of the termination of the tenancy, the landlord must either return the deposit in full or, if any monies are being kept by the landlord, a statement must be sent to the tenant, including a complete, itemized list of deductions.
    • The landlord must sign this statement under the pains and penalties of perjury.

If the landlord fails to comply with any part of the law, the statute states that a penalty may be imposed, ranging from the return of the security deposit to treble damages and attorney fees. If you are a tenant or a landlord and have questions about the Massachusetts Security deposit law, get in contact today