Legislative Alert – code violations and illegal units

Legislative Alert
February 14, 2014
Massachusetts Rental Housing Association

Very Important!  


Landlords, we need your help in testifying for two rent escrow bills and against two code violation and illegal unit bills.


Tuesday, February 25


State House, Room B2



Joint Housing Committee


 It’s that time of year when our State legislators allow public input on bills that they are considering.

Please join other MRHA members in this effort and email [email protected]MRHA President, and let her know you will join her in testifying.  Even if you do not wish to speak, come and show support for all landlords across the state.  (Click on the bill numbers to read the full text of the bill.)

HB1112 &  SB616

These two bills regarding notifying tenants of code violations and illegal units will be heard.  These bills will give “professional” tenants more ammunition to withhold rent and cause financial ruin for landlords.  While both of these bills are well-intentioned, they go too far with fines and possible imprisonment.  Current penalties for non-compliance to state sanitary, zoning and building codes exist. We are not aware of any studies showing existing laws such as sanitary code and zoning and tort are lacking in any way.


S616 – Sen. Tarr, Bruce (R) – An Act requiring landlord notice of unsafe conditions.  1st Essex and Middlesex, 617-722-1600

Summary – Requires a landlord, upon citation or any notification of conditions which have the potential to endanger or materially impair the health or safety of tenants, to notify all tenants potentially affected by said violation or non-compliance.
How this bill will effect landlords –  This bill is a quagmire if passed with other current laws as they are in sec239a.  An unintended consequence of this bill will be a new avenue for tenants to use the resources of the city and court to report code violations as a way to avoid paying rent and prolong their stay.

No landlord wants code violations, especially if caused by the tenants to avoid paying rent.  Any landlord that has been involved with the city on code violations already knows this law does nothing to help tenants except it allows them a legal way to not pay rent.


Proposed bill language:

SECTION 1. The provisions of this bill shall be known as “Robert Taylor’s Law”.

SECTION 2. Chapter 186 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2010 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting after Section 19 the following new section:-

“SECTION 19A. Notice to tenants of unsafe or unsanitary conditions

A landlord of any real estate except an owner-occupied two- or three-family dwelling shall, within 30 days of a state or local minimum housing code enforcement agency citation or any notification to the landlord of conditions which have the potential to endanger or materially impair the health or safety of tenants, notify all tenants [potentially affected by said violation] of said non-compliance or condition; provided, that additional notification be provided for every additional thirty days for which said real estate remains in non-compliance or in such condition. If any real estate is not in compliance with either state or local health or building codes, no lease for said real estate, nor any extension of any existing lease, shall be proffered to any prospective or current tenant without accompanying notification of the property’s non-compliant status. No provision of notice under this section shall be waivable, either implicitly or explicitly.

The department of public safety and the department of public health, in consultation with the department of housing and community development, shall each promulgate regulations to implement this section, including the incorporation of this section in the state building code and state sanitary code and the form and means of transmission of any notice required by this section.

Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit or eliminate any other rights held by tenants or landlords pursuant to other statutes or regulations.”

HB1112 – Rep. Fernandes, John (D) – An Act relative to the renting or leasing of illegal residential premises.  

10th Worcester, 



Summary-  Adds a new §:23 to GL c.186 (Landlord and Tenant) which prohibits a landlord from receiving rent on any property that is in violation of a zoning by-law, the State Building Code or other codes, of which the landlord has actual knowledge. Violations would subject a landlord to a penalty of between $500 and $2,000 or 90 days imprisonment; landlords may also be required to provide relocation assistance to displaced tenants and receive an administrative fine of up to 6 times the monthly rental before zoning and housing code violations; landlords may be required to remove improperly installed kitchens or bathrooms; any tenant who receives a notice of eviction that results from zoning or code enforcement activity for an illegal occupancy will be considered a displaced person.

How this bill will effect landlords – This bill deals with illegal units and in theory works, but in reality there is often conflicting information at the city level as to the amount of units.  If the apartment meets code but is considered illegal because one city department says it is and other departments have different information as to units in the building, i.e. Assessors and building departments, then the penalties are very harsh and unfair.

If the unit is a fire trap or in serious neglect due to the landlord that is a different matter and should be dealt with.  This bill will not have the desired effect and will cause unnecessary homelessness and higher rents.

On the other hand, if illegal apartments were allowed to become legal, they could be brought up to code and consequently, the housing stock would increase.


Proposed bill language:

Chapter 186 of the General Laws is hereby amended by adding the following section:-

SECTION 1. Section 23. No person shall charge, demand, receive or accept any rent or other payment for the use or occupancy of any residential rental premises which is used or occupied in violation of a zoning by-law, the State Building Code or other codes, and of which said person has knowledge, or reason to know, and does permit.

Within 10 days following receipt of a notice to abate an unlawful occupancy violation, the owner of a residential premises shall serve upon the occupants of such using or occupying said residential premises a copy of this section and shall post a copy of this section in a common area of the premises accessible to all occupants thereof for inspection. Such owner or person shall serve such occupants a notice to vacate the property, requiring that the property be vacated within ten (10) days.

Any person found in violation of this section shall be subject to a fine of not less than $500 not more than $2,000, or by imprisonment of not more than 90 days, or both.

In addition to requiring relocation assistance to displaced tenants, the owner-landlord may be fined an amount equal to 6 times the monthly rented for zoning and housing code violations to be paid to the city or town. In addition to the above penalties the court may impose a fine equal to the tuition costs of any resident of the illegal tenant attending a public school which fine shall be received in a civil action by a summary proceeding in the name of the city or town. The district court and superior court divisions of the trial shall have jurisdiction of this section. The tuition costs shall be determined in the manner prescribed for nonresident student and shall be paid to the school district.

Where an owner is convicted of a violation of this section be required to permanently remove the kitchen and bathroom if it exists, and all electrical and plumbing that was installed without the proper permits. The term, remove the kitchen shall mean removal of the stove, refrigerator and sinks in any such structure. The building inspector or his designee shall inspect the premises to insure all such removal is accomplished within 30 days of the notice to remove.

Any tenant who receives a notice of eviction that results from zoning or code enforcement activity for an illegal occupancy shall be considered a displaced person and shall be entitled to relocation assistance in an amount equal to 6 times the monthly rental paid by the displaced person. The owner-landlord of the structure shall be liable for the payment of relocation assistance pursuant to this section.

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HB1110 & HB1131   Escrow Bills

Sample Letter:

To State Senator ______ and Representative______,


I would like you to support the mandatory escrowing of rent bills HB1131 by Bradley H. Jones and HB1110 by Robert F. Fennell.


Mandatory rent escrowing is needed to close the loop hole for the “Free Rent Trick”.  Once a landlord serves a 14-day notice to quit on a tenant, savvy tenants will call the Board of Health to report code violations.  This call and report then allows the tenant to withhold rent.  Usually, the tenant did not have the rent money to begin with.  By making the escrowing of rent mandatory, the tenant will have to show that they have the money to pay the rent and are willing to put it into an account to be divided as seen by the courts after judgment is given.


Many tenant groups will say that this is unfair to the tenant because of code violations in some rentals.

Sadly, in most cases, withholding of rent is not because of substandard living conditions, but simply because the tenant does not have the rent.  If there are true code violations, the “Repair and Deduct” law can be used. If something needs to be repaired and the landlord does not fix it, the tenant can legally hire someone to fix it and deduct the amount of the repair from the rent.

I would appreciate it if you could support these bills.
Thank you,


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A Public Hearing gives landlords an opportunity to speak out for their rights. 
Please join us to make our voices heard on February 25.


The State House is accessible by train from Newburyport, Haverhill, Lowell and Fitchburg areas.  Parking is available in the Boston Common Underground Garage.


To read more about these bills, go to www.massrha.com.

Find out who your Representatives and Senators are

www.mass.gov and click on “legislators” on your left, or

www.wheredoivotema.com and enter your street address.


 Joint Housing Committee Members


Address all to the State House, Boston, MA 02133


Rep. Canavan, C. (D)     10th Plymouth   Room 146         [email protected]

Rep. Curran, S. (D)        9th Hampden    Room 473B       [email protected]


Rep. Diehl, G. (R)          7th Plymouth     Room 167         [email protected]


Sen. Forry, L. (D)          1st Suffolk        Room 419         [email protected]gov

Rep. Fox, G. (D)           7th Suffolk        Room 167         [email protected]

Rep. Holmes, R. (D)      6th Suffolk        Room 254         [email protected]

Chair Rep. Honan, K. (D)   17th Suffolk      Room 38           [email protected]

Rep. Lombardo, M. (R)  22nd Middlesex Room 443         [email protected]

Rep. Rogers, D. (D)      24th Middlesex  Room 134         [email protected]

Rep. Decker, M. (D)      25th Middlesex  Room 236         [email protected]

Rep. Lawn, J. (D)          10th Middlesex  Room 160         [email protected]

Chair Sen. Eldridge, J. (D)  Middlesex and Worcester   Room 413-A        [email protected]

Sen. Jehlen, P. (D)        2nd Middlesex  Room 513         [email protected]


Vice Chair Sen. Kennedy, T. (D)   2nd Plymouth and Bristol     Room 109E       [email protected]

Sen. Pacheco, M. (D)    1st Plymouth and Bristol               Room 312-B   [email protected]

Sen. Tarr, B. (R)            1st Essex and Middlesex           Room 308         [email protected]

Rep. Livingstone, J. (D) 8th Suffolk        Room 146         [email protected]



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