If you are a Massachusetts tenant, you are entitled to some very specific rights as a renter. Among your entitlements is the provision of hot water to your apartment; as a tenant in Massachusetts, your landlord is required to keep your hot water running. Taking a quick look at the state sanitary code shows just how unambiguously this right is protected:
105 C.M.R. §§ 400 and 410, the State Sanitary Code.
Your rights as a renter to receive hot water is derived from Massachusetts General Law, c. 111, § 127A, that references the state sanitary code and what constitutes “habitable” living conditions. In regards to your right to hot water, section 410.190 of the state sanitary code states:
“The owner shall provide and maintain in good operating condition the facilities capable of heating water. The owner shall also provide the hot water for use at a temperature of not less than 110°F (43° C) and in a quantity and pressure sufficient to satisfy the ordinary use of all plumbing fixtures which normally need hot water for their proper use and function […].”
Your Right To Hot Water Cannot Be Amended
Your landlord may not make an agreement that tries to work around this minimum standard. For examples, your landlord can’t offer you $100 less in rent if you agree to live with cold water. As a Massachusetts tenant, you must be provided hot water, otherwise your landlord is in violation of the law, and may owe you civil damages up to three times one month’s rent plus attorney fees and cost.
Further, if your landlord is doing work on the apartment and needs to shut off access to your hot water, he must give you reasonable notice. Reasonable notice usually means 24 hours.
What do you do if your landlord is violating your right to hot water?
What action should you take if your landlord is failing to maintain it’s responsibility? If you find yourself without running hot water you should do the following:
1) Inform your landlord in writing. This step will cover you in the future, as you will have a reference point to work from in proceeding forward if your landlord doesn’t make repairs in a timely fashion. It’s easy to make a phone call and think, ok, now my landlord knows. However, if your landlord fails to restore your hot water, you will need written proof that you informed him that you needed your hot water restored.
2) Contact your local board of health and schedule an inspection, as a reference point to determine your legal rights. The board of health is a “disinterested third party” meaning they are not on your side or the landlord’s. However, they will document the lack of hot water and order your landlord to restore it. If your landlord fails to restore the hot water, they can file a lawsuit and potentially have your landlord arrested for violation of law. The point is to document the conditions and get the hot water restored. Often times landlords will not begin to restore your hot water until they receive an order from the local board of health.
3) Withhold your rent. To withhold rent, consult this guide for your rights and procedures in Massachusetts. Essentially, once you have made a formal request for repairs that has gone unmet by your landlord, you can pursue rent withholding as an option to encourage fast compliance. You will need to make sure that you inform your landlord in writing that you are withholding your rent until the hot water is restored. This letter should be mailed BEFORE your rent is due. Withholding your rent does not simply mean you can now go out and spend that rent money. Your rent will be due in full once the hot water is restored. It’s best practice to open a separate account and deposit your rent in that account as the rent becomes due. Massachusetts does not have a rent escrow law, so you are not required to open a separate account, but it’s a good practice.
4) If your landlord fails to restore your hot water you are owed monetary damages and may be deemed to have been “constructively evicted” A constructive eviction is when the conditions in your apartments are so bad, that you cannot live in the apartment because its not fit for human occupancy. Damages for such action is three times one month’s rent plus attorney fees and cost under Massachusetts Breach of Quiet Enjoyment statue or 186 section 14.
The Bottom Line:
Your landlord has a responsibility to provide you with hot water. This right is what makes your apartment fit for “human occupancy.” If you don’t have hot water, inform your landlord in writing. Call the board of health and schedule an inspection. Withhold your rent if your hot water has not been restored after “reasonable notice.” Sue your landlord for failing to restore your hot water under the breach of quiet enjoyment statue which provides for three times one month’s rent plus attorney fees and cost. If you have any questions please get in contact today.