This is the first in a series of posts about your rights as a tenant in Massachusetts.
SCENARIO: You've lived in your apartment for a year or so when your oven suddenly stops working. Not only this, but over the past six weeks you've noticed mice droppings as well as actual mice in your kitchen. You emailed your landlord about this four weeks ago, but she said it wasn't that bad and did nothing to fix it. You also tell your landlord about the broken oven and she tells you someone will be over to fix it, but two weeks have passed without repair. Now, with the two combined issues, your kitchen is basically off-limits and you will have to buy take out for all of your meals, adding an unnecessary additional expense to your budget.
IS THIS A VIOLATION? Yes. This scenario implicates a breach of the warranty of habitability. The law requires landlords to provide tenants with a "habitable" place to live, which essentially means a safe, sanitary, and healthy place to live. A landlord's failure to do so may result in a breach of the warranty of habitability. While a breach of the warranty of habitability can consist of a major issue (i.e. it's winter and your bedroom window will not close all the way and the heat is broken, resulting in your bedroom being about 40 degrees), it can also be made up of a combination of relatively smaller issues as in the above scenario. Either way, your landlord is responsible for providing you with a reasonably safe, healthy, and clean place to live. (Read the bottom of this post for a list of "bad conditions" that could result in a breach of the warranty of habitability).
YOUR LANDLORD MAY NOT LEGALLY LOWER YOUR RENT IN EXCHANGE FOR YOUR ACCEPTANCE OF POOR CONDITIONS.
SCENARIO: Say the rent for your one bedroom apartment was $1,500. Before signing your lease, you walk around the apartment and notice some issues: the heat wasn't great, one of the windows was cracked, and you thought you saw a cockroach scurry across the kitchen floor. You bring this up with the landlord who says, "Oh, that's not too bad, but how about I knock $300 per month off the price?" You know the issues you spotted aren't ideal, but you don't think they're too bad, so, intrigued by the lower price you say "Sure, sounds great." You then move in, pay your reduced rental price, and continue to notice the original issues.
IS THIS A VIOLATION? Yes. It is a violation for a landlord to contract around the warranty of habitability (i.e. by reducing the rental price). Because the poor conditions existed at the time your rental period began and have continued to exist, this may also be a breach of the warranty of habitability.
The above scenarios may also violate other laws, which we will cover in future posts.
You may have a breach of warranty of habitability defense or counterclaim if you have any of the following:
- no heat
- broken radiator, too much heat, very noisy radiator
- mice or rats
- gas leak or no gas
- no hot water
- water leaks or flooding
- electric issues (exposed or faulty wiring, broken outlets or light fixtures)
- bugs, roaches, insects, ants, etc.
- peeling paint, cracks in walls or ceiling, lead paint