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Constructive Eviction in Massachusetts

If a landlord allows a rental unit to become unlivable—and won't fix the problem—then tenants in Massachusetts have the right to leave and break the lease.

Built into every lease, whether explicitly stated or not, are the warranty of habitability and the covenant of quiet enjoyment. Both require a landlord to keep their rental properties in a livable and accessible condition. If a landlord fails to do so, a tenant has the right to vacate the premises and void the lease through a concept called constructive eviction.

Although the concept is the same, the specifics of constructive eviction vary slightly between states. In Massachusetts, this right was established by a series of court cases rather than an actual statute—so we have to look at past court decisions to understand the details.

Constructive eviction is only allowed when there are severe problems

One of Massachusetts’s earliest cases dealing with constructive eviction involved a landlord replacing a coal heater with an oil heater.1 Soot and smoke immediately filled the apartment directly above the new heater. The tenants asked the landlord to fix it, and, despite multiple efforts, the problem continued. The tenants then moved out.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court determined this was a valid reason for constructive eviction. The court further expanded the concept by stating that the landlord doesn’t have to intend to force their tenants out; all that is required is for the issue to make the apartment unlivable.

In another case, an appeals court held that cigarette smoke from a neighboring apartment could rise to the level where constructive eviction was appropriate.2 (Although they didn’t end up making a call in that particular instance.)

In another Massachusetts Supreme Court case, the court held that the noise from a neighborhood bar allowed residents of a nearby building to claim constructive eviction—only because the same landlord owned and rented both properties.3 Hence, the ability to address the noise issue was within the landlord’s power.

Also, it’s important to note that the problem cannot be caused by the tenant or an invited guest.4

There’s no clearly defined process for constructive eviction

Like all states, the tenant must inform the landlord of the problem and allow for a reasonable time to fix it. Although not required, it’s always a good idea for the tenant to deliver the notice via either certified mail or hand delivery. That way, there is a record of the landlord receiving notice.

Because there is no clearly defined statute in Massachusetts that provides specific instruction on constructive eviction, it’s important to refrain from acting rashly. Consultation with an attorney before making a move can prevent a slew of potential problems.

Tenants have to leave the rental to claim constructive eviction

The tenant must also vacate the premises within a reasonable time to successfully claim constructive eviction. What constitutes a reasonable time depends on the facts of the specific case. In the above case regarding the heating unit, the tenants stayed for more than two months. The court found that was reasonable since they stayed because of the landlord’s promise to fix the problem.

[1] Westland Housing Corp. v. Scott

[2] Donnelly v. Cohasset Housing Authority

[3] Blackett v. Olanoff

[4] Mass. General Laws 239 § 8a

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.