NOTE: When I originally made this video, my office was located at 45 Prospect St. in Cambridge. I have moved to 22 Boston Wharf Road Boston MA 02210 (Seaport District). While my location has changed, the offer to come by and have coffee and discuss your issue still stands.
As a Tenant, you have a Right to Heat
As anyone who has experienced a New England winter can tell you, adequately heating your apartment is a necessity in Massachusetts. Every landlord must pay for heating its apartment if there is no written agreement between the landlord and the tenant stating otherwise. If the owner is not paying for heat: the landlord is violating the Massachusetts- Consumer Protection law and possibly breaching the tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment of the apartment.
If you are a tenant facing problems with your heat, the time to act is now. By taking the necessary precautions, you can ensure that your issue will be resolved as soon as possible.
Chapter II of the State Sanitary Code is the basis for Landlord accountability. From 16th of September through 14th of June, each room must be heated to at least 68 degrees between 7 am, and 11 pm. At night the minimum temperature is 64 degrees. Unless otherwise stated and agreed upon under lease, the landlord is responsible for supplying the heat.
Under the State Sanitary Code, the tenant’s agreement to pay for utilities must be included in the written lease, and the utilities must be separately metered, not only for each unit but also separately from the common area utilities
For Example, you sign a lease with your landlord. It does not mention who pays for electric or heat. The owner must pay for power and heat.
If the heat goes off, a landlord must be notified of their responsibility to take action. If The severity are unresponsive and the problem remains neglected, your local code enforcement agency should inspect the premises. It is fundamental to begin a written record of landlord negligence as soon as you notice a problem developing.
For example, let’s say you are watching a movie with your family on a cold December night. The living room becomes colder and colder. After feeling the heating vents, you realize that there is no heat coming from them. What should you do?
- Call the landlord and inform them of the issue.
- Write the landlord an email or letter stating what the problem is.
Make Sure to Communicate with your Landlord in Writing
You need to have a written record. If the landlord does not provide a response, you will need a WRITTEN record that you gave notice to the landlord of the problem. Verbal notice is not enough; it MUST BE IN WRITING.
Have the Board of Health Do an Inspection
Every Massachusetts community has a Board of Health or Inspectional Services Department. It is in your best interest to schedule this inspection from the appropriate department within 24 hours as required by the state sanitary code. The inspector will take a temperature reading and leave you a copy of the inspection report. If a violation is found, a written order should be sent to you and your landlord via the postal service. It is possible to contact local police to take a temperature reading at night or on weekends when Enforcement Departments are closed.
You may be able to withhold rent
The case becomes eligible for rent withholding if your problem extends beyond an isolated heat outage. Chronic issue warrants involvement of legal counsel should you choose to defend yourself. Creating personal and public record of temperature issues is essential for litigious resolution. Call local enforcement and track complaints, as these prove your claim in court. If your testimony is required in court, it is prudent to be as accurate as possible with your personal temperature log.
Readings should record the date, time, and location of each measurement five feet up from the floor and five in from any outside wall. A permanently placed thermometer is ideal. Essentially, failure to provide adequate heat is a “breach of warranty of habitability.” By law, you are allowed to take deductions from your rent. You are protected against eviction only if you follow the rules:
You inform your landlord in writing that you are deducting rent due to the failure to provide heat on or before your rent is due.
You must be able to show the nature and extent of the lack of heat through record keeping.
Oral communication is insufficient, whereas maintained written records show a conscientious effort to abide by your rights under the law. This letter should be sent well before the rent is due, and should be dated and filed along with your other records.
If you choose to withhold rent, the money should be set aside. You are entitled to a reduction of rent, called an “abatement,” for time spent without adequate heat. The settlement with the landlord over back rent will negotiate this reduction. Once the condition has been corrected, rent is expected to continue as originally agreed upon. There is no exact rule for determining an abatement, besides the general estimate that an apartment without heat is worth one-fourth to one-half its normal value. The severity of the cold should correspond with your withholding percentage.
Proper procedure will provide protection if the landlord brings eviction proceedings against you. Depending on the strength of your case, a lawyer often chooses to represent you on a “contingency fee.” The attorney’s fee in this insistence will come out of money awarded from the landlord. The court may offer to awards attorney’s fees in some circumstance. Damages can be collected from the owner if they try to evict, or raise rent within six months of a reported code violation to enforcement agencies. You are often entitled to both damages and attorney’s fees. Lastly, remember that it is illegal for the landlord to shut off utilities or lock you out of the apartment. Knowing your rights and the proper way to protect yourself will see you through this issue. Please contact Doubledaw Law should you have any questions about landlord-tenant law in Massachusetts.