In Massachusetts, residential landlords may not rent any dwelling, dwelling unit, mobile dwelling unit, or rooming unit for the purpose of living, sleeping, cooking or eating therein, which does not comply with the State Sanitary Code Chapter II. Minimum Standards of Fitness for Human Habitation (the “Code”). The Code applies to dwelling units whether owner-occupied or rented. The Code is created by the Department of Public Health and primary responsibility for noting and enforcing violations is by the local Board of Health. The Code is set forth in the Code of Massachusetts Regulations, or CMR, at 105 CMR 410.000.
The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (the “AGO”) recently released its Annual Consumer Advocacy Report entitled A Report on Consumer Complaints Received in Calendar Year 2022 (the “Report”). The Report states that for the first time the AGO stated that it received 918 consumer complaints regarding rental housing, outpacing 909 complaints received against used-car dealers. Many of the rental complaints concerned unsafe and sanitary conditions. Taking note of the spike in rental housing complaints, the Department of Public Health took action and updated the Code effective April, 2023. Landlords, renters and other stakeholders should be aware of these changes. Quoting from the Report, the updates include:
Mold and Excess Moisture May be Cited by Board of Health Agents
The 2023 revisions explicitly enable a Board of Health Agent to inspect any observations of mold, or conditions of excess moisture that appear likely to result in an unusual amount of mold. Environmental testing is not needed.
Landlords Must Inspect for Pests
A landlord must perform an inspection for pests prior to any new tenant occupying a unit, to document this inspection, and, upon request, provide any such documentation to a Board of Health Agent.
A Working Oven, Cooktop, Refrigerator and Freezer are Required
Unless explicitly agreed to in the terms of a rental agreement, the 2023 revisions now require a landlord to provide a conventional oven and cooktop, and a refrigerator with a freezer.
Heat Must be Provided from September 15 through May 31
The timeframe for the heating season, now begins on September 15 and ends on May 31 each year. Boards of Health can alter these dates based on weather forecasts.
Landlords Must Try to Correct Dangerous or Unsafe Conditions within 24 Hours
Landlords must make a good faith effort to correct, within 24 hours, any condition “which may endanger or materially impair the health, or safety and well-being of a person or persons occupying the premises” and the code requires that in the event of a flood or leak, an owner/landlord must ensure all surfaces are dry within 48 hours from the time he or she is notified, or at the end of the event, whichever is sooner.
Landlords Must Be Reachable
The Code now requires that a landlord monitor any contact phone number provided to tenants at least once every 12 hours.
Landlords are at significant risk if they fail to update their lease agreements or perform the required inspections prior to each tenancy. All it takes is a call from a tenant to the local Board of Health Agent to cause an inspection and possible violations.