IStock_743295LargeYou have the right to live in a safe and healthy home, no matter how much you pay for rent.

As a renter (or tenant) you have certain rights and responsibilities. The Massachusetts State Sanitary Code (105 C.M.R. 410) outlines the minimum standards for human habitation to ensure that your home is safe. The Sanitary Code also provides legal remedies if you live in a substandard home and your landlord fails to respond to your complaints about a violation.

Rules for a good tenant/landlord relationship

  • Develop a cooperative and business-like relationship from the start;
  • Keep communication lines open;
  • Put all agreements in writing;
  • Know your rights and responsibilities.   (Source: HAP Housing)

Rights

How to handle issues with your landlord

  • Before calling Code Enforcement, you should alert your landlord about any code issues in your home. It is best to inform him/her of any issues in writing.
  • If  your landlord fails to respond to your complaints, you can contact Code Enforcement
  • A city inspector will then come to your apartment and assess the conditions. If violations are confirmed, the inspector will issue a violation notice to your landlord requiring them to address the violations within a specified period of time.  You will also receive a copy of this notice.
  • important_yellowSome conditions, like no heat, are deemed an emergency and must be addressed within 24 hours. If your landlord doesn’t resolve the violations within the required time frame, the case may be referred to Housing Court.

If your landlord fails to fix the problem

If your landlord fails to fix the problem(s), you may be able to take additional actions including withholding rent or moving out. There are certain steps you should take before withholding rent, such as informing your landlord in writing. Additionally, you should be current on rent.

If your landlord doesn’t comply with the City’s Order to Correct and fix the violations within the required time frame, then you have the right to make repairs and deduct the cost from your future rent. To do this, the following conditions must be met:

  • The Housing Inspector certified the existence of violations that endanger the occupants’ health, safety or well-being.
  • The owner or his agent must be notified in writing of the defects.
  • Your landlord must fail to contract with a third party to do repairs within 5 days OR fail to substantially complete repairs within 14 days after this notice (or within a shorter time if dictated by Housing Inspector or ourt.)
  • You must not have caused the conditions.
  • You must not deny your landlord access to the area to make repairs.

Assuming these conditions are met, you may also treat your rental agreement as broken and move out instead of making repairs.

If you have questions about your rights, contact the HAP Housing Consumer Education Center at 413-233-1600, or seek guidance from legal services or an attorney.

Responsibilities

Just like a landlord, you can be issued a violation notice for an unsanitary dwelling.

As a tenant you have the responsibility to maintain your home and pay rent as dictated in your rental agreement. If you notice an issue like a water leak, tell your landlord immediately. Ignoring issues like excessive moisture can have severe consequences to your health and the structural integrity of the property.  Some of your rights and responsibilities may vary depending on the type of lease or rental agreement you enter.

Fair Housing

Reasonable Accommodations

Federal and state fair housing regulations require property owners to reasonably accommodate the needs of disabled or handicapped persons. Characteristics that define a handicapped or disabled person under law include a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a person in one or more major life activity. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination defines life activities as walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, and performance of manual tasks and caring for oneself. A Reasonable Accommodation may mean allowing an exemption to certain policies in order to provide a disabled person an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the property, such as allowing a companion animal in a building with a no-pet policy. Reasonable Accommodations could also mean reasonable modifications to the property, like a ramp or Braille signage.  Your landlord is not allowed to ask prospective tenants about disability, so you need to take the initiative to inform your landlord or building manager about your disability and the need for a reasonable accommodation.  A landlord may require documentation from a doctor confirming that you have a disability and justifying the need for the accommodation.  Accommodations should not cause undue financial and administrative burden to the property owner.

Lead Paint

Before signing your lease, your landlord should have provided you with information about lead in your home, even if the status is unknown.  If your home was built before 1978, when lead paint was banned, then there is a good chance there is some lead in your home.  If you have a child under 6 in your home, it is your landlord’s responsibility to ensure that the property is lead safe.  Learn more about lead.

important_yellowIt is illegal for a landlord to refuse to rent to a family with a child under 6 because of lead paint!

Services & Resources for Tenants

Tenant Rights and Responsibilities
Fair Housing
General Housing Services
Homelessness
Other

Please visit our Home Health Hazard pages for services and resources specific to home health hazards.