In Massachusetts, a landlord’s obligation for providing a habitable living space is primarily governed by MA Gen. Law §111-127A. This legal requirement, commonly known as the “implied warranty of habitability”, also outlines the rights of tenants when repairs are not made in a timely manner.
|Landlord Responsibilities||Windows/Doors, Roof/Walls, Hot/Cold Water, HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical, Sanitation Facilities, Stairs/Railings, Floors, Fire Exits, Carbon Monoxide/Smoke Detectors.|
|Time Limit for Repairs||5 Days or 14 Days|
|Tenant Recourse Options||
Applicable Dwelling Types in Massachusetts
The implied warranty of habitability in Massachusetts does not apply to all types of dwellings. See the table below for which are and aren’t included.
|Dwelling Type||Landlord/Tenant Laws Apply?|
|RV parks||Yes, within certain limits|
|Mobile home parks||Yes, within certain limits|
|Condos||Not specifically addressed|
Landlord Responsibilities in Massachusetts
The following chart lists possible landlord responsibilities when it comes to habitability. Not all of them are requirements in Massachusetts, as indicated below.
Note: Some of the below items may not be addressed at the state level but may be addressed on a county or city level. Check your local housing codes to see which additional requirements may apply.
|Habitability Issue||Landlord Responsibility?|
|Provide windows and doors that are in good repair.||Yes|
|Ensure the roof, walls, etc., are completely waterproofed and there are no leaks.||Yes|
|Provide hot and cold running water.||Yes|
|Provide working HVAC equipment.||AC not required|
|Provide working plumbing and electrical wiring/outlets/ lighting.||Yes|
|Provide working gas lines if used for utilities/cooking||Yes|
|Provide working sanitation facilities (bathtub/shower, toilet).||Yes|
|Provide a trash can (for trash pickup services).||Multi-family units only|
|Ensure that any stairs and railings are safe.||Yes|
|Ensure that all floors are in good condition and safe.||Yes|
|Provide fire exits that are usable, safe, and clean.||Yes|
|Ensure storage areas, including garages and basements, do not house combustible materials.||Not addressed|
|Provide working smoke detectors||Yes|
|Provide a mailbox.||Not addressed|
|Provide working wiring for one telephone jack.||Not addressed|
|Provide working kitchen appliances.||If provided, must be in working order|
|Provide working carbon monoxide detector.||Yes|
|Provide a working washer/dryer.||No|
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.
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.
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.
Landlords are required to prevent “chronic dampness” in rental units which includes mold.
Any exit used (or intended to be used) by a tenant of more than one dwelling unit shall be maintained by the landlord free from obstruction.
Tenant’s Right to Repairs in Massachusetts
If tenants request repairs, they must put their request in writing.
- Sending Notice – The tenant must send the notice and allow the landlord five days to make necessary repairs or 14 days to contract outside services to complete the repairs.
- Landlord Access – Tenants are required to give the landlord access to the property to make necessary repairs. A landlord must give tenants “reasonable” notice unless:
- The tenant no longer occupies the property.
- It’s an emergency.
Tenant’s Options if Repairs Aren’t Made in Massachusetts
If repairs aren’t made in a timely manner, the tenant has a few possible options for resolving the issue.
- Withhold Rent – Massachusetts landlord tenant law allows a tenant to withhold rent in response to habitability issues. A tenant can withhold a portion of rent if a proper notice to make necessary repairs has been sent to the landlord in writing or the local Board of Health has inspected the property and found health code violations and has notified the landlord. To withhold rent, the violations need to endanger or materially impair the tenant’s health and safety. The amount withheld depends on each situation.
- Repair and Deduct – If a landlord fails make the necessary repair within five days of notice or within 14 days after notice was given and a local code enforcement agency certifies that there is a code violation that is endangering or materially impairing a tenant’s safety, health or well-being, tenants have the right to pay for the repairs. Tenants may deduct the amount from the monthly rent payments, not to exceed a total of four months’ rent.
- Lawsuit – Tenants do have the right to take legal action for damages resulting from habitability issues.
- Reporting to Public Officials – Landlords can be reported on a city or county level to housing inspectors if they are found to be in violation of any local housing codes. Upon written or oral request, the Board of Health shall inspect a dwelling unit with the current occupant. The Board of Health shall respond within 24 hours and will inspect the following: water supply, heat, gas, lighting, sanitary drainage systems, fixtures, door entries, leaks, porches, balconies, roofs, exterior stairs, rodents, skunks, cockroaches, insects, etc. The inspector will determine if there are any violations that endanger or materially impair the safety or health and wellbeing of the tenants and record the violations on an inspection report form. If the dwelling unit is not in compliance with the current housing codes, the landlord/owner shall within 12 hours make a good faith effort to correct the serious violations within 24 hours. Depending on the violation, additional time may be given to the landlord/owner.
Landlord Retaliation in Massachusetts
Landlords in Massachusetts cannot evict or increase the rent in retaliation of a tenant making a complaint to the local code enforcement agency. Retaliation against tenants for requesting repairs that affect habitability is illegal under Massachusetts law within six months of the following tenant’s actions:
- Contacting the Board of Health.
- Joining a tenants’ organization.
- Filing a lawsuit.
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.
- Commonwealth of Massachusetts, General Laws, Part II, Title 1, Chapter 186 – Estates for Years and At-Will.
- Commonwealth of Massachusetts, State Sanitary Code, Chapter 2 – Minimum Standards of Fitness for Human Habitation.
- Commonwealth of Massachusetts, “Tenant Rights.”
- Massachusetts Attorney General, “The Attorney General’s Guide to Landlord and Tenant Rights.”