Massachusetts
Habitability Laws

QUICK FACTS
  • Landlord Responsibilities. Maintain working plumbing, electrical, sanitation facilities and smoke detectors, supply hot and cold running water (read more).
  • Making Repairs. Landlords are required to make and pay for repairs for items under their responsibility. They must do so within 14 days after receiving a written request from tenants (read more).
  • Tenant Options. If repairs aren’t made in a timely manner, tenant can withhold rent and has right to repair and deduct, report the issue to a public official or file a lawsuit (read more).
  • Retaliation. If a landlord is reported to a local city or county inspector for housing code violations, it is illegal for a landlord to retaliate, such as by threatening eviction (read more).

The implied warranty of habitability in Massachusetts does not apply to all types of dwellings. See the table below for which are & aren’t included.

Dwelling Type Landlord/Tenant Laws Apply?
Single family Yes
Multi-family Yes
Fraternities/Sororities/Clubs No
RV parks Yes, within certain limits
Mobile home parks Yes, within certain limits
Condos Not specifically addressed
Hotels/Motels No

Landlord Responsibilities

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

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.

Mold

Landlords are required to prevent “chronic dampness” in rental units which includes mold.

Making Repairs

If tenants request repairs, they must put their request in writing.

  • Sending notice – The tenant must send the notice and allow the landlord 5 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. However, 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

If repairs aren’t made in a timely manner, the tenant has a few possible options for resolving the issue.

  1. Withhold rent – Massachusetts landlord tenant law allows a tenant in to withhold rent in response to habitability issues. A tenant can withhold a portion of your 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.
  2. Repair and deduct – tenants have the right to pay for the repairs and deduct the amount from the monthly rent payments, not to exceed a total of four months’ rent.
  3. Lawsuit – tenants do have the right to take legal action for damages resulting from habitability issues.
  4. 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.

Landlord Retaliation

Landlords in Massachusetts can terminate the tenancy or increase the rent without reason. However, 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, or
  • filing a law suit.

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.

Sources