Massachusetts Habitability Laws

Massachusetts law governs all landlord/tenant issues in the state.Read further to learn what landlords are responsible for providing and how long they have to make repairs. Learn how tenants should request maintenance and how habitability applies to damages and security deposits.

Quick Facts for Massachusetts

Who Does The Warranty of Habitability Apply To?

The Warranty of Habitability in Massachusetts applies to short-term and long-term rental properties that are single-family or multi-family dwellings. It also applies to mobile home parks and RV parks, with certain limitations.

How Long Do Tenants Have to Make Repairs?

N/A

What Are Tenants Responsible For?

Tenants are required to keep the rental reasonably clean; landlords can ask a tenant to clean up if they are not doing so. Tenants are allowed to deduct the costs of any repairs they make from their monthly rent.

What are Landlords Responsible For Providing?

Working plumbing, electrical, sanitation facilities, and elevators (in buildings that have them), as well as a trash can (for trash pickup services). Landlords are not liable for damage caused by the tenants. They are also not required to provide AC.

How Long Do Landlords Have to Fix Something?

After tenants request repairs, landlords must make them within 14 days. They must also provide reasonable notice before entering the unit to make these repairs.

The following chart lays out which types of rental units the law applies to.


Quick Facts:
 

  • Landlords are not liable for damage caused by the tenant.
  • Tenants can withhold rent until necessary repairs are made.
  • Landlords are required to provide working locks and screens for exterior windows and doors.

Understanding the Law

For all residential properties, landlords are required to ensure the property complies with any and all building codes and housing codes as they relate to the safety of the building and/or the health of the residents.

They’re also required to perform any repairs necessary for the unit to be livable—unless those needed repairs have been caused by the tenant’s actions. 

Tenants are required to pay for any repairs caused by their own negligence or intentional acts, which may come out of the security deposit.

Rental agreements are not allowed to include any provisions that waive the tenant’s right to live in a habitable residence.

Landlord Responsibilities

The following chart lists common landlord responsibilities when it comes to habitability.  Not all of them are requirements in Massachusetts, as indicated below.

Lead-based Paint

For any properties built prior to 1978, landlords must provide tenants with a written lead-based paint disclosure prior to signing the lease. 

However, the landlord is not required to remove any lead-based paint on the premises unless children under the age of six will be living in the unit. 

Kitchen Appliances

Kitchens are required to have the space to install a refrigerator, and the appropriate outlets/water lines for one; however, landlords are not required to provide a refrigerator. 

If stoves and ovens are provided (per the terms of the lease), they must be in working order.

In addition, kitchen sinks must be large enough to wash dishes.

Security

Landlords must also provide working locks for all windows and doors, including interior doors, as necessary.  Screens in good repair should also be provided for all windows that open and for entry doors that access the outside.

Rodents, Skunks, and Insect Infestations

It’s the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that all rental properties with two or more units are free from rodents, skunks, and insect infestations, including cockroaches.

Addressing Habitability Issues

For any repairs the landlord makes due to the tenant’s actions, the landlord can use the tenant’s security deposit to pay for any damage to the property when the tenant moves out.

Tenant Repair Requests

If tenants request repairs, they must put their request in writing.  The landlord will then have 14 days to make any necessary repairs after receiving written notice.

If the landlord fails to make the requested repairs within 14 days, a tenant has the right to:

  • Withhold rent until the repairs are made.
  • Pay for the repairs themselves and deduct the amount from the monthly rent payments, not to exceed a total of four months’ rent.

Landlord Access

Tenants are required to give the landlord access to the property to make necessary repairs.  However, a landlord must give tenants “reasonable” notice unless:

  • The tenant no longer occupies the property.
  • It’s an emergency.

Failure to Provide the “Essentials”

If a landlord intentionally or negligently fails to provide heat, water, or electricity, tenants are allowed to pay for any necessary utilities themselves and deduct this amount from the monthly rent until the landlord begins paying for utilities again.

Tenants may also report the landlord to their local officials, who will inspect the rental unit and make a determination of habitability.

Retaliation

Retaliation against tenants for requesting repairs that affect habitability is illegal under Massachusetts law.  Landlords found guilty of retaliation will be required to pay an amount equal to at least one month’s rent but not more than three months’ rent.

Security Deposits and Repairs

Finally, the landlord is required to provide an itemized list of damages along with the estimated costs for any repairs to be withheld from the tenant’s security deposit within 30 days of the lease’s termination. 

Otherwise, the landlord will be required to pay their tenant triple the amount withheld.

Sources

  1. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, General Laws, Part II, Title 1, Chapter 186 – Estates for Years and At-Will.
  2. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, State Sanitary Code, Chapter 2 – Minimum Standards of Fitness for Human Habitation.
  3. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, “Tenant Rights.”
  4. Massachusetts Attorney General, “The Attorney General’s Guide to Landlord and Tenant Rights.”

 

Read About the Warranty of Habitability in Other States