Office of Consumer Affairs Advises Tenants in Tornado-Damaged Apartments to Make Thoughtful, Long-Term Decisions on Leases and Housing
Tenants may be urged to break lease and get security deposit back, but they should understand repercussions of losing rights to property
BOSTON - June 10, 2011 - Following up on concerns from tenant-rights groups in Western and Central Massachusetts, the Patrick-Murray Administration's Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation is urging tenants of tornado-damaged homes to make careful decisions when deciding whether or not to break their lease.
If an apartment is declared uninhabitable by the local Board of Health for any length of time, a tenant is allowed to break the lease under state law, and have the security deposit returned. However, doing so ends the tenant's rights to live in the property, even if it is quickly repaired. In some cases, tenants have been encouraged by landlords to sign off on breaking the lease. In other cases, landlords have said they are unwilling to give the security deposit back to tenants.
"Tenants are in the difficult position of not having an apartment to live in, and needing to make decisions about their future living arrangements," said Barbara Anthony, the Undersecretary of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. "Instead of making a snap decision, tenants need to discuss the situation with their landlords, and if necessary seek out advice from impartial, knowledgeable sources."
Tenants can call the Office of Consumer Affairs Consumer Hotline at (888) 283-5787 with questions, and get a comprehensive list of available services by going to www.mass.gov/stormrecovery. Tenants can also contact the Massachusetts Justice Project at (800) 639-1209. Representatives from the Justice Project and Western Massachusetts Legal Services will be at the MassMutual Center shelter site on Monday, June 13 through Wednesday, June 15, from 9-11 a.m.
If a tornado completely destroys an apartment, or if the local Board of Health condemns the apartment, the lease is terminated. The tenant can request getting the security deposit back, along with any rent paid in advance. The landlord has 30 days to make payment, and if the landlord does not comply, the tenant may sue the landlord for the money owed, and possibly recover triple damages.
If the apartment has minor or significant damage, the rights of the tenant are dependant on the situation and the terms of the lease. Under state law, the tenant has the right to end the lease and request the return of the security and rent paid in advance. Because the details vary by situation, tenants should consult legal services for help.
Tenants should know that if they accept the return of a security deposit, the lease is terminated and the tenant cannot return to the apartment. Tenants should not rush to accept any payment because it could mean that they cannot continue the lease.
The Patrick-Murray Administration's Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation is committed to protecting consumers through consumer advocacy and education, and also works to ensure that the businesses its agencies regulate treat all Massachusetts consumers fairly. Follow the Office at its blog, Consumer Connections, and on Twitter, @Mass_Consumer.