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Frequently Asked Questions

Getting Started

You can use UpToCode to read through an edited, translated, and easy to read version of the state sanitary code. We organized the law by “rooms” so you can quickly find out if your home is up to code. Along the way, you can take photos of any problems that you find.

First, let your landlord know about the problem. In writing is best. UpToCode can help you draft a letter to your landlord. If that fails you can use UpToCode to:

  • Report the problem to a housing inspector
  • Write a 93A consumer protection demand letter
  • Get an emergency order in court
  • Get an order from the court for your landlord to pay you

For emergency problems, like no heat, your landlord has just 24 hours to make repairs. For other problems, it may be as long as 30 days. UpToCode can help you discover each law that your landlord has to follow and will tell you exactly how long they have to repair it.

Follow the step-by-step instructions in UpToCode to write a lawsuit against your landlord. When you are finished with UpToCode, follow the instructions to take your printed documents to court and to your landlord to start the lawsuit.

If you win your case, how much money you can get will depend on how serious the problem is and how long it lasted. For most tenants, the amount you can get is a percentage off of your rent for each month that you had the problem. For serious problems, you may also be able to get up to three times your monthly rent. It can take a long time to win a lawsuit for money in court.

Who is responsible for repairs in an apartment in Massachusetts?

Your landlord is the one who needs to fix problems in your home. Some problems may come from something in your home wearing out or an accident. That does not change who is responsible for fixing it. If something is your fault and it was not caused by normal usage, your landlord may be able to ask you to pay for your part of the cost.

Even if your landlord blames you for a problem in your home, such as mice or bedbugs, your landlord is the one who needs to fix the problem. You should do your best to follow any reasonable thing that they ask you to do, such as storing food or cleaning surfaces to make it harder for the pests to stick around.

What laws protect tenants in Massachusetts?

You have the right to a safe, habitable, and decent place to live in Massachusetts, without any bad housing conditions. Your rights come from Massachusetts landlord-tenant law and the State Sanitary Code. You can use UpToCode if you need help getting repairs in your home.

For your home to be “habitable,” your landlord needs to make sure your home follows all of the rules in the State Sanitary Code. If something in your home is broken and there is a rule about it in the sanitary code, like having mold, mice, or missing heat, your landlord needs to fix the problem and make sure that you have healthy living conditions. If your home is not up to code, it may violate your right to quiet enjoyment or the warranty of habitability.

The State Sanitary Code lists all of the rules for what makes every room in your home safe. The rules may seem small, like having a minimum number of electrical outlets, or they may seem big, like having enough heat in the winter. No matter how small the rule, Massachusetts law requires your landlord to keep your home in compliance with the State Sanitary Code. If they do not follow the law, they need to fix the problem and they may owe you money.

Finding an inspector

If you need to report unsafe living conditions or other problems that need to be repaired in Massachusetts, you can call the board of health or inspectional services department for your city or town. You can find your inspector for your city or town here. Before you call an inspection agency, make sure your landlord knows about the problem. You can use UpToCode to write your landlord a letter and to document the problems for the housing inspector.

To get an inspection, you just have to call, email, or use the webform that your city or town uses to ask for an inspection. Once you let them know about the problem, an inspector is supposed to come within 48 hours. Use the report from UpToCode to let them know what problems they should inspect. They will give you a copy of their report and also order the landlord to fix anything that needs to be repaired.

If your landlord doesn’t fix a problem after the housing inspector tells them to, the inspector has the option of filing a criminal complaint against your landlord. A judge may order them to fix the problem or pay a fine for each day that the problem isn’t fixed.

UpToCode can help you take the next steps. That may be: writing a consumer protection demand letter, getting an emergency order in court, or suing your landlord for money.

Landlord retaliation and eviction

Your landlord is not allowed to evict you because you complain about things that need to be repaired in your home. If they do, that is called “retaliation” and that is illegal. A judge may decide to give you up to 3 times your monthly rent as a penalty to your landlord. Even though your landlord is not allowed to do this, you still need to respond in court! Use the free MADE tool right away to file an answer and to defend against the eviction.

If you complain about repairs to your landlord, will they raise your rent? Sometimes costs go up, and your landlord is allowed to raise the rent. But if they are only raising the rent to punish you for complaining about repairs, the rent increase is illegal retaliation. You can sue your landlord for 3 times the monthly rent if they retaliate against you.

If you are undocumented, your landlord may threaten to report you to immigration, ICE, or “the authorities,” if you complain about repairs. You have the same rights as every tenant in Massachusetts to get help in court, no matter what your immigration status is. The risk that ICE will follow-up on a landlord targeting a tenant is small.

You always have the right to make a complaint about repairs! And if you do, your landlord is not allowed to evict you because of it. A new landlord will never know that you called the board of health or wrote a letter to your landlord. However, they may be able to see public records that show if you filed a lawsuit or are evicted. Be prepared to explain what happened if you need to move.

What if my home is condemned?

If your home is truly uninhabitable and cannot be fixed by your landlord without you moving out, the Board of Health may tell you to move. But many problems can be fixed without moving. Your landlord is responsible for keeping your home habitable. Your landlord may need to pay for you to move or to live in a hotel while the problem is fixed.

Some apartments are never legal in Massachusetts. For example, if too many people are sharing one apartment or there is no safe way to exit the apartment. A fire or a building collapse can also make a safe home unsafe. The rules for a safe place to live are in the State Sanitary Code. You can use UpToCode to find out more.

You can ask a court to order your landlord to help you move to a new apartment. It is up to the judge to decide. Your city or town may also have money set aside to help people who are facing your problem. Try calling legal aid for more help.

When there are very serious violations of the Sanitary Code in your apartment and you need to move, the law allows you to break your lease. If you do not have a lease, you can leave without giving the usual 30-day notice to the landlord. It may be safest to get a housing inspection report with UpToCode before you break the lease.

Withholding rent

Withholding rent is a risky option that we do not recommend. Your landlord can bring a non-payment eviction case against you if you withhold. If you need help paying rent, apply for free rental assistance here through the RAFT program: https://applyhousinghelp.mass.gov/en-US/Pages/View/124/select-your-language. You do not need to be a US citizen or green card holder to apply. Anyone can apply.

Getting repairs for tenants in public housing

If you have a Section 8 voucher or live in public housing, you have the same right to get repairs as any other tenant. You can use UpToCode to give your landlord notice or to sue them in court.

If you have a Section 8 voucher and your landlord ignores an order to fix serious housing problems, your housing authority may put you “on the clock” to use your voucher in a new apartment or risk losing it. UpToCode can help you get an order from a court that tells the landlord to fix the problems right away and protect your voucher.

Illustration of a person and pet dog at home with no neat

About UpToCode

UpToCode is a free website that will help you:

  • Discover what problems you have in your home
  • Tell your landlord about the problems
  • Get help from the city
  • And get an order from a judge to get the problems fixed

 

UpToCode walks you through the problems step by step and helps you write the documents that you need to solve your problem. It takes most tenants about 20 minutes and is totally free. After you use UpToCode, you may need to print some documents and bring them to your landlord, the board of health, or the court house.

UpToCode is a free website built by the nonprofits Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Northeast Legal Aid, and the national funder the Legal Services Corporation. It is hosted by Greater Boston Legal Services.

The information that you type into UpToCode is kept safe by the nonprofits Greater Boston Legal Services, Northeast Legal Aid, and Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. It will be saved for 90 days unless you decide to delete it before then. You can also keep or share a copy of any of the work that you make. You have total control of the information. Nothing is automatically shared with your landlord or with the Court and it is never sold to a third party. Read the terms of use.

UpToCode is free to use for everyone. You can use it whether you are:

  • A tenant
  • A housing inspector
  • An attorney
  • A social worker or community organizer
  • Or anyone else

If you see a problem when using UpToCode or have a suggestion on how we could make it better, you can send us feedback or when using the website, click “Feedback” in the bottom right-hand corner.

Getting more help

You can use the Legal Resource Finder to find free legal help near you.

If you are a landlord and cannot afford to make the repairs that you need, the HUD website has resources that you may qualify for.