Every U.S. state has its own version of the implied warranty of habitability, which guarantees that landlords will keep their rental units livable—that is, free of issues that would threaten the safety or health of tenants—over the course of a lease. Massachusetts’ warranty of habitability is closely tied to the state building and sanitary codes, making it much more specific than many other states about what issues are considered a breach of the warranty.
The warranty always applies, no matter what’s in the lease
The implied warranty cannot be waived, no matter what it says in the lease. A lot of leases in Massachusetts either fail to state that the warranty of habitability applies, or try to make it sound like a grey area to put the onus on tenants.
In 1985, for instance, a Boston landlord was sued for including “deceptive and illegal clauses” in his standard lease. One paragraph read:
THERE IS NO IMPLIED WARRANTY THE PREMISES ARE FIT FOR HUMAN OCCUPATION (HABITABILITY) except so far as governmental regulation, the legislation or judicial enactment otherwise requires.
Technically, the fine print following the all-caps declaration is a disclaimer that the law overrides the lease. However, as the judge noted, the paragraph still suggests that the implied warranty of habitability is “the exception and not the rule, if it exists at all”—and, as such, the lease is “a clear and calculated effort to further mislead tenants.”1
Requirements under the sanitary code are relatively specific
Every landlord in Massachusetts is required by law to keep a rental unit habitable, which the state's sanitary code defines as:
- Enough water with adequate pressure to meet your ordinary needs
- A heating system in good working order
- A kitchen with a sufficient size and capacity for washing dishes and kitchen utensils, a stove and oven in good repair, and space and proper facilities for the installation of a refrigerator
- A unit free from rodents, cockroaches and insect infestation
- Maintenance of foundation, floors, walls, doors, windows, ceilings, roof, staircases, porches, chimneys, and other structural elements to exclude wind, rain, and snow
- Free from chronic dampness,
- In good repair and in fit for its intended use
If there's been a breach of the warranty, tenants in Massachusetts should start by sending a repair request letter to their landlord. After waiting a reasonable amount of time for a fix, they can consider deducting for repairs or withholding rent.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.
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