Press Release

Press Release AG Healey Issues Guidance for Merrimack Valley Tenants and Landlords Affected by Columbia Gas Explosions

For immediate release:
11/05/2018
  • Office of Attorney General Maura Healey

Media Contact for AG Healey Issues Guidance for Merrimack Valley Tenants and Landlords Affected by Columbia Gas Explosions

Meggie Quackenbush

BostonAttorney General Maura Healey issued guidance today outlining the rights and duties of tenants and landlords impacted by the Columbia Gas explosions in September that devastated the Merrimack Valley and have left thousands of residents without heat and hot water.

“Nearly two months after the Columbia Gas explosions, thousands of homes in the Merrimack Valley still have no heat or hot water,” said AG Healey. “My office is issuing this guidance to ensure that both tenants and landlords are able to make the appropriate claims from Columbia Gas and do not suffer financial losses.”

In addition to today’s guidance, the AG’s Office previously announced a new hotline and resources for Merrimack Valley residents, and demanded answers from Columbia Gas about the company’s plans for the expeditious restoration of gas and compensation for impacted residents.

The AG’s guidance is available for residents in English and Spanish. It encourages landlords and tenants to work together to resolve issues related to the gas explosions, including claims made with Columbia Gas. Tips outlined in the guidance include:

TENANTS

  • State law requires heat and hot water. The State Sanitary Code requires landlords to provide a heating system in good working condition. The system must be able to heat homes to at least 68º F during the day and 64º F at night. Hot water in homes must be between 110º F and 130º F.
     
  • State law allows tenants to withhold rent if they are without heat or hot water. Massachusetts law allows tenants to withhold payment of rent due to material violations of the State Sanitary Code. Even though these violations were caused by the gas explosions, tenants still have the right to withhold rent. Landlords can seek reimbursement for this lost rent from Columbia Gas.
     
  • Tenants should notify their landlord in writing of problems before withholding rent. If tenants are without heat or hot water due to the Columbia Gas explosions, their landlord should be notified of the problem before tenants withhold rent.
     
  • Request temporary alternative housing through Columbia Gas. Columbia Gas is making temporary housing available to residents affected by the disruption of gas service. Tenants can inquire about temporary housing by calling 1-800-590-5571.
     
  • Ask your landlord to refund any rent you paid while your home was without heat or hot water. Columbia Gas will reimburse your landlord for this rent as part of the landlord's claim with Columbia Gas.  If your landlord refuses to file a claim with Columbia Gas or to refund your rent for the period in which your home was without heat or hot water, contact the Attorney General's Merrimack Valley Hotline at 617-573-5370.

LANDLORDS

  • Tenants can withhold rent. They are not legally obligated to pay rent for a home that lacks heat or hot water, regardless of the cause of the underlying problems or whether the tenant remains in the home.
     
  • The Attorney General’s Office views attempts to collect rent for a home affected by this disaster as a violation of state consumer protection law. Trying to collect rent or threatening eviction for nonpayment of rent on a unit that lacks heat or hot water due to the Columbia Gas explosions will be considered a violation of the state consumer protection act by the AG’s Office.
     
  • Landlords should file a claim with Columbia Gas for lost rent. Landlords are not expected to take a financial loss due to this disaster. Landlords should file a claim for lost rent and any other property damage with Columbia Gas by calling 1-800-590-5571 or visiting the Columbia Gas website.
     
  • Coordinate with Columbia Gas to ensure timely repairs and restoration of heat and hot water. Landlords will need to authorize any repairs made by Columbia Gas to their property. Landlords who fail to coordinate repairs and/or provide property access and delay the restoration of heat and hot water may not be able to recover lost rent from either Columbia Gas or their tenants.

Tenants or landlords who are having problems can call the AG’s Merrimack Valley Hotline at 617-573-5370 for assistance. Additional resources for Merrimack Valley residents can be found at www.mass.gov/ago/merrimackvalley.

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Media Contact for AG Healey Issues Guidance for Merrimack Valley Tenants and Landlords Affected by Columbia Gas Explosions

Office of Attorney General Maura Healey 

Attorney General Maura Healey is the chief lawyer and law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

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