Guide Housing Court's guide to landlord-tenant issues

Learn about common landlord-tenant issues.

Can I stop my tenant from causing damage to the apartment before or during an eviction case?

Yes.  The landlord can seek equitable relief from the housing court to enjoin a nuisance, either in an independent civil action or on a motion as part of a summary process case.

Can I charge the tenant for water?

It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to provide (and pay for) water for the dwelling.

But G.L. c. 186 §22 authorizes water submetering in residential tenancies (except in public housing developments).  The law allows a landlord to enter into a written agreement with a residential tenant whereby the landlord charges for water usage, if the landlord installs submetering equipment and also water conservation devices for all faucets, showerheads, and toilets in the unit.  The requirements of the law must be strictly observed.

G.L. c.186 §22(l) prohibits a landlord from shutting off or refusing water service to occupants on the basis of nonpayment of water usage charges.

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Can a tenant be required to pay for the electricity on common areas of the building?

Your landlord may require that you pay for common area lighting, but 105 C.M.R. 410.254 requires that your landlord may do so only if (1) the building contains fewer than four units; (2) there is a written agreement stating that you are responsible for payment of your unit’s electric service, to which the common area lighting is wired; and (3) the landlord informs the occupants of the other units that you are paying for the lights in the common area.

Under the State Sanitary Code, 105 C.M.R. §410.180 (water), §410.190 (hot water), §410.201 (heating fuel)), and §410.354(A)-(C) (electricity and gas), the owner (or landlord) of rental housing is required to provide (and pay for) these essential utilities, unless there are separate meters for each unit and a written rental agreement that provides for payment by the occupant.

The Department of Public Utilities has established procedures, 220 C.M.R. §29.00, which allow electric and gas companies to credit tenants and bill owners of residential rental property for past utility service improperly billed to tenant customers.

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What can I do if my apartment has material defects?

Rent withholding

G.L. c. 239 §8A authorizes rent withholding for material code violations that are not caused by you or anyone under your control and that the landlord knows about before you start to withhold your rent.  The requirements of the law must be strictly observed.

Other actions

You should first tell the landlord about the violations in writing.  If this does not work, you can contact your local board of health or inspectional services department and ask them to inspect the property.  The inspector can cite the property, and if the landlord does not comply with the order of the inspector, you or the board of health or the inspectional services department can bring your landlord to court.

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Can my landlord enter my apartment when I am not at home?

Unless it is an emergency, a landlord cannot enter an apartment without the tenant’s permission or a court order.

The State Sanitary Code, 105 C.M.R. §410.810, requires that all occupants of residential housing give reasonable access to the landlord, his agents, and employees to make repairs so that the premises are in compliance with the State Sanitary Code.  Under G.L. c. 186 §15B(1)(a), a lease for residential property can also provide that the landlord may enter to inspect the premises and/or show the property to a prospective tenant, purchaser, mortgagee, or their agents before the termination date of the lease. The landlord also has the right to inspect the apartment within the last thirty (30) days of the tenancy or after either party has given notice of intention to terminate the tenancy.  

Where the landlord has the right to enter, reasonable notice (if possible, by appointment) must be given to the tenant that an entry will be made at a specific and reasonable time.  If the landlord gives reasonable notice and has the right to enter, but the tenant unreasonably refuses entry, the landlord can seek an “access order” from the housing court.

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My landlord turned off the heat during the winter, or the water, hot water, gas, or electric. Is there anything I can do to get it restored as quickly as possible?

You may come to court and file an application for a temporary restraining order to require that the landlord provide heat, water, hot water, gas, electric, or other utilities as required by law.  The court will normally act on such a request the same day it is filed.

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My landlord threatened to change the locks to my apartment if I do not pay my rent arrearage. Can he do this?

No.  As a tenant, you are entitled to a notice to quit and a summary process summons and complaint for a hearing in court before the landlord can have you removed from the property.  The landlord cannot use self-help to evict a tenant.

Can my landlord raise my rent even if I do not agree with the increase?

A tenancy is a legal contract between the landlord and tenant, and it cannot be changed by one party alone.  The landlord and tenant can agree to a rent increase by making a new legal contract, and payment of increased rent evidences a new contract.  But as long as the tenant is paying the old contract rent, the landlord is not entitled to terminate the tenancy for nonpayment of rent, and the landlord is not entitled to increased rent.  If the tenant does not agree to the rent increase, the landlord may terminate a tenancy-at-will by a general “thirty days” written notice to quit, which may include an offer to establish a new tenancy at a higher rent.  If the tenant does not agree to the rent increase, the landlord may then file a summary process (eviction) case.

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Am I entitled to interest on my last month’s rent or security deposit? When and how much?

Yes.  On the anniversary date of payment of the last month’s rent or security deposit, at the rate of five percent (5%) per year or the actual rate of the bank’s escrow account.

I agreed to a payment schedule in court, but I cannot afford to make the payments. What do I do now?

First, you should attempt to revise the payment schedule with the other party directly.  If you are able to do so, you should reduce your new agreement to writing, sign it yourself and have the other party sign it, and file the signed document with the court.  If the other side will not agree, you may file a motion to ask the judge to modify the payment schedule after a hearing.  You should be aware, however, that a judge’s discretion to modify the agreement can be very limited.

I am supposed to be in court for a hearing, but I cannot make it. What should I do?

At the earliest possible time, you should ask the other party to agree to “continue” (postpone) the case to a later date, and file your agreement with the court.  If the other side will not agree, you should file a motion for a postponement and have it heard before the hearing date.  Otherwise, you may be defaulted and, in the case of a contempt hearing, a capias for your arrest may issue.


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