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Jump to. If your landlord does not make repairs after you have either notified her in writing or she has Dont need fixed at least not much ordered by the Board of Health to make repairs, you may need to consider other options, such as withholding your rent, making repairs and deducting the cost from your rent, working with other tenants to put pressure on the landlord, taking your landlord to court, or breaking your lease.
What you can and want to do will depend on your situation. Once you inform yourself of the options, you may want to consult with a tenant advocacy organization or lawyer see Directory. One way to get your landlord to fix bad conditions is to withhold all or some of your rent until the landlord actually makes the repairs. This is called "rent withholding. Tenants have a right to withhold rent because landlords are obligated to provide safe and habitable housing under the warranty of habitability.
If a landlord breaks this obligation, a tenant's obligation to pay the full amount of rent stops until repairs are made. If you are considering withholding your rent, it is very important that you do it right. Before you begin to withhold, read the next sections in this chapter very carefully. Use the sample Rent Withholding Letter Form If you are living in a hotel or motel or have lived in a rooming house for less than 3 consecutive months, you do not have the right to withhold your rent to get the landlord to make repairs.
For more information about the rights of rooming house tenants, see Chapter Rooming Houses. Before you can withhold rent, you must meet certain requirements. If you answer yes to all five questions, you can legally withhold your rent and your landlord cannot evict you—although she may try.
If a landlord tries to evict you and you have properly withheld your rent, your landlord may be violating other laws. See Chapter Evictions - Retaliatory Evictions. Rent withholding is the most direct way that you can force your landlord to make repairs.
More often than not, it is also the most successful tactic. It is particularly successful in a building where tenants agree to together to withhold their rent. See Chapter Getting Organized about how to organize a rent withholding campaign.
While you are withholding rent, you are in a better position to negotiate with the landlord about what you want.
Some of the issues that you can negotiate include:. The right to withhold does not mean that you have a right to live in your apartment rent-free. Rent withholding is a way to get the landlord to make repairs. Once a landlord makes repairs, you must paying rent. The best way to protect yourself while you are withholding rent is to take your rent money and set it aside in a bank separate from any other bank that you have. Do not keep cash in your apartment. Although the law does not require you to put your rent in a bank, there are several reasons why this is a good idea.
Legally, once your landlord makes repairs, you do not automatically have to give the landlord back any of the rent you have withheld. Only a judge can order you to do this. You may decide to keep some or all of the rent you withheld because of the impact these conditions had on your use of the apartment. If your landlord decides to take you to court to get back the withheld rent, explain to the judge how the conditions affected you and your family.
Depending on Dont need fixed at least not much situation, a judge may decide you can keep part or all of the withheld rent. While you have a legal right to withhold rent, your landlord may try to evict you. The best way to protect yourself against eviction is to make sure you:. A copy of a housing inspection report that accurately describes code violations is the best way to document violations of the state Sanitary Code.
It is also proof that the landlord knew about the conditions. If you print out the pictures write the date and time they were taken on the back of the picture.
A good picture will be worth a thousand words if you need to prove that bad conditions exist. If a landlord wants to evict you, she must go to court and get permission from a judge. If a judge finds that you have followed all the requirements under the rent-withholding law, you will have a legal defense to the eviction. You may also have a legal claim against her for money damages. A judge may also order you to pay an amount called the fair rental value to the court. The fair rental value is the value of your apartment with all its problems and code violations 51 see box following this section.
If a judge orders you to pay money to the court, ask the judge also to order the landlord to fix all defective conditions. Ideally, you want the court to hold onto your rent money until a landlord has made repairs.
Although a court can decide to give your landlord permission to use the money you pay to the court to make repairs, you can ask the judge to hold a hearing before returning this money to the landlord. At the end of an eviction case, if a judge finds that, because of code violations, your landlord owes you the Dont need fixed at least not much amount as or more money than you owe her, you win the case and can stay in your apartment.
If, on the other hand, the court finds that you owe the landlord money, you can stay in your apartment only if you pay the amount you owe to the court. This is why it is important to set aside your rent money—so if a judge says you owe money, you can pay and stay. You must pay this amount to the court within 7 days of receiving a notice from the court about the amount due.
The court may also require you to pay certain court costs. Because your stove doesn't work, your toilet is broken, water leaks through the ceiling, and the landlord refuses to give you a smoke detector, you withhold all of your rent. Before you start to withhold, you notify your landlord in writing about all of these conditions Dont need fixed at least not much get a housing inspection report. You also put your rent money aside in the bank.
She files an eviction case in court based on nonpayment of rent. After hearing both sides of the case, a judge finds that you properly withheld your rent. If you pay this amount to the court within 7 days of receiving this notice, you can stay in your home. This is why it is so important to set the rent aside in a separate bank. Under certain conditions, tenants in Massachusetts have the legal right to make repairs and deduct up to Dont need fixed at least not much months' rent to pay for them.
The disadvantage is that you are taking responsibility for making sure that the repairs are done well. See the sample Repair and Deduct Letter Form To be able to deduct the cost of repairs from your rent, certain conditions must be met. If you can answer yes to all five questions below, you can repair and deduct. You are allowed by law to repair anything in your apartment or in the common areas of your building. If there are violations that affect several apartments or an entire building, a group of tenants can get together and have the repairs made.
Make sure, however, that everyone is in agreement, that you Dont need fixed at least not much a certified Board of Health report documenting the problems, and that you have given your landlord written notice of the violations. Each and every tenant can then deduct up to 4 months' rent for her share of the total.
For example, you and other tenants may get the boiler in your building fixed, and then all affected tenants can subsequently deduct up to 4 months of rent, depending on how much the repair cost. Under the law, you may deduct only a total of 4 months' rent in any month period. You cannot store up months of withheld rent over several years and then deduct more than 4 months' rent in a single year.
If you decide to repair and deduct, save all bills and receipts for materials and labor as proof of your costs. Remember: When you make the repair, you are taking responsibility for making sure it's done right. When you hire someone to do the repairs, ask what complications or risks there may be in doing the repair.
It is also a good idea to get a reference for anyone you hire and a few estimates for the work so you can show the cost of the person you hire is reasonable. If a landlord feels that you deducted too much for repairs, she is allowed to go to court to try and get back some of this money. The law does not, however, allow your landlord to evict you if the court believes that you have deducted too much rent.
If your landlord does take you to court to try to get back possible excess rent deductions, do not ignore the court notice. To show that the deductions were excessive, the landlord will have to show that the deductions were for more than 4 months' rent during a month period, or were unreasonable given the circumstances.
In deciding if deductions were unreasonable, a judge will look to see what alternatives the tenant had at the time the violations were first reported, how urgent the repairs were, and the quality and cost of the work done. Repairs for minor code violations, such as screens, small leaks, or small holes in the walls, will probably not be found reasonable by the court unless there are so many of them that you can prove that the overall effect is dangerous.
If other tenants in your building or community face bad conditions, there are ways to work together to improve everyone's living conditions. Tenants can all agree to withhold rent until the landlord makes repairs. A group of tenants can ask a judge to order the landlord to make repairs. If the landlord absolutely refuses to fix the bad conditions, tenants can ask a court to appoint a temporary landlord called a receiver in order to make repairs.
For more see section in this chapter called Receivership. Tenants can also organize and together put pressure on the local Board of Health to inspect their apartments and enforce the state Sanitary Code and local health ordinances. Chapter Getting Organized gives you information about how to begin to organize tenants. It will also give you specific organizing steps you can take to get repairs made. When there are very serious violations of the Sanitary Code in your apartment and you feel you must move, the law allows you to break your lease.
If you do not have a lease, you can leave without giving the usual day notice or whatever notice may be required in your situation to the landlord. You are allowed to break your lease or move out without giving the usual notice because the landlord has violated her obligation to provide a habitable apartment under the warranty of habitability. If you move out early, your landlord may try to sue you for moving early and for the balance of the rent due under any lease.
For this reason, before you move out, it is wise to obtain a Board of Health report as proof of the violations in your apartment.
If violations are not serious, you may be held responsible for paying the rent if you leave without proper notice. When you move out because of serious violations, you are entitled to get back your security deposit. If you have to go to court Dont need fixed at least not much get your deposit back, you might have to prove that the conditions in your apartment were severe enough to permit your leaving. If your landlord refuses to make repairs, you can take her to court. The court has the power to do a of things.
A judge can:. There are primarily four types of complaints that you can file with the court to demand that a landlord make repairs:. Tenants can ask a judge to order their landlord to repair conditions that violate the state Sanitary Code or local health ordinance, if it is stricter. This is called a tenant petition. When you file a tenant petition, a judge can:. The benefits of bringing a tenant petition are that it may be a safe way for you to get repairs made without having to withhold rent and the court filing fee is low.
If you file a tenant petition, you—not your landlord—are bringing the matter before a judge. A tenant petition also puts you in a better position to negotiate what you want with the landlord. When you file a tenant petition, a judge also has the power to make certain other decisions. A judge may decide that until your landlord makes repairs, your rent should be lowered to the fair rental value of your apartment.
The fair rental value is the value of your home with all of its problems. A judge can require you to pay this amount to the court clerk in addition to any past rent you have withheld or owe while the landlord makes repairs. A judge can, however, release this money to your landlord for purposes of making repairs. A judge also has the power in a tenant petition to order the Board of Health to condemn a very dangerous building.
This could lead to tenants' evictions. If you want a judge to order your landlord to make emergency repairs, you can file a complaint and ask a court to issue an injunction. For example, a judge can order your landlord to immediately fix the heating system. In most cases, tenants request an emergency order called a temporary restraining order or TRO when they first go to court and file the complaint. Because this is an emergency, you may request a TRO without first notifying the landlord.
See a Temporary Restraining Order Form Or try the MassAccess interactive interview, Complaint for a Temporary Restraining Orderthat lets you complete, review, and send your request for a Temporary Restraining Order to the court from your smart phone or computer. If a judge gives you a TRO, it is good for only a short period of time—the maximum is 10 days. If you need an order to last longer than 10 days, you must ask the court to schedule another hearing where you can request what is called a preliminary injunction. A preliminary injunction is an order that can cover a longer period of time.
If you use Form 15, you can ask for a hearing for a preliminary injunction at the same time you ask for Dont need fixed at least not much TRO.Dont need fixed at least not much
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Private tenants: security of tenure