Code and Habitability Rights
Habitability Rights: You are entitled to
a safe and habitable living environment. The State Sanitary Code protects the health,
safety and well-being of tenants and the general public. The local Boards of Health
enforce the code. (Note: In Boston, it is the Housing Inspection Department.) Copies of
the Code may be purchased from the State House Bookstore, State House, Room 116, Boston,
MA 02133 (617)727-2834.
The following is a sampling of provisions
outlined in the Code:
Water: The landlord must provide you with
enough water, with adequate pressure, to meet your ordinary needs. You cannot be charged
for water. If your lease requires you to pay for water and sewer costs, that provision in
your lease is void and unenforceable. The landlord also must provide the facilities to
heat the water at a temperature between 110°F and 130°F, however your written lease may
require you to pay for and provide the fuel to heat the water.
Heat: The landlord must provide a heating
system in good working order. The landlord must pay for the heat, unless your lease
requires you to pay for it. From September 16 to June 14, every room must be heated to a
least 68°F between 7:00 AM and 11:00 PM, and at least 64°F at all other hours. During
the heating season, the maximum heat allowable in the apartment is 78°F.
Kitchens: The landlord must provide
within the kitchen: a sink of sufficient size and capacity for washing dishes and kitchen
utensils, a stove and oven in good repair (unless your written lease requires you to
provide your own), and space and proper facilities for the installation of a refrigerator.
The landlord does not have to provide a refrigerator. If a refrigerator is provided,
however, the landlord must keep it in working order.
Rental Housing Resource Center
- Guide to the Boston Rental Housing
Cockroaches and rodents: The landlord
must maintain the unit free from rodents, cockroaches, and insect infestation, if there
are two or more apartments in the building.
Structural Elements: Every landlord must
maintain the foundation, floors, walls, doors, windows, ceilings, roof, staircases,
porches, chimneys, and other structural elements of the dwelling so that it excludes wind,
rain, and snow; is rodent-proof, weather tight, watertight, and free from chronic dampness;
in good repair, and in every way fit for its intended use.
Snow Removal: Every exit used or intended
for use by occupants of more than one dwelling unit or rooming unit shall be maintained
free from obstruction.
Rent Withholding: The Massachusetts
Supreme Judicial Court ruled that when a landlord fails to maintain a dwelling in a
habitable condition, a tenant may properly withhold a portion of the rent from the date
the landlord has notice of this breach of the warranty of habitability
withhold rent if:
- You have appealed to your landlord in
writing to make the necessary repairs;
- Your local board of health has inspected
your apartment and found health code violations; and
- You are current in your rent up until the
time of the problem, you are not the cause of the problem and the unsanitary conditions do
not require the apartment to be vacated.
Withholding your rent can be a useful
tool to force repairs, but it is a serious step and should be dealt with carefully. You
first should notify your landlord that you will be withholding rent and specify the
reasons why. Although not required by law, you should deposit any rent you withhold into
an escrow account to show good faith.
Repair and Deduct: A tenant may make
emergency repairs in an apartment or common living area and deduct up to four months
future rent to pay for them, if three conditions are met:
- The local Board of Health or other code
enforcement agency has certified that the present conditions endanger the health or safety
of the tenants;
- The landlord receives written notice of
the existing violations from the inspecting agency; and
- The landlord is given 5 days from the date
of notice to begin repairs or to contract for outside services and 14 days to
substantially complete all necessary repairs.
(Note: If ordered by the court or the
local code enforcement agency to make repairs in less than 14 days, then the landlord must
comply with the shorter time frame.)
If you meet the requirements for
"repair and deduct," the lease or rental agreement is void. You now have the
right to move if you choose not to make repairs. However, you must pay the fair value for
the period you occupied the apartment and vacate the apartment within a reasonable period