In Massachusetts, the State Sanitary Code (105 C.M.R. 410) governs what it means to provide a habitable place in which to live. In general, “habitable” means a place that is comfortable and clean enough for a person to live safely.

If a landlord does not respond to a tenant’s complaints about a Sanitary Code violation, the tenant may request that a code enforcement officer or the local board of health inspect the apartment. An inspector can then come to the apartment, review the conditions, and order the landlord to fix the problem if deemed necessary. In the event that the landlord still fails to fix the problem, a tenant may be able to withhold a portion of the rent or move out, even if there is a lease or rental agreement in place. M.G.L. c. 111, § 198; 105 C.M.R. 410. However, before either withholding rent or moving out, tenants considering these options should contact a private lawyer or legal services for more information and advice.

Under federal and state law, If the rental property was built before 1978, the landlord and tenant must sign and retain a copy of the Tenant Lead Law Notification and Tenant Certification. These forms are to inform the Tenant of known risks and causes of lead poisoning and disclose if it is known that lead-based paint is present in the rental unit. A landlord must also disclose documents related to any lead inspection or risk assessment done on the rental unit, and a Letter of Interim Control or Letter of Compliance issued by the local board of Health. If a child under six will be living in the rental property, the landlord is obligated to delead or bring the lead hazards under interim control.

For more information about the State Sanitary Code, a tenant can also call the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Citizen Information Service hotline at 617-727-7030 or 1-800-392-6090 (in MA only).