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October 31, 2016 |

Constructive Evictions Give Tenants Certain Rights

Leases may hold tenants responsible for paying rent over a defined period, but no one should have to pay rent for unlivable property conditions. When the only option is moving out, tenants often have the right to recover rent and other damages. These complex legal cases are often highly-interpretive, however. .Without support from a Boston tenant lawyer who knows how to prepare a case and present all details in court, renters can unfairly lose their rights

Legal Eviction Can Occur Without Direct Landlord Action

Most renters are aware that they can face eviction when a landlord proves to a court that the tenants have failed to meet the terms of the lease, most commonly making full and timely rent payments. Still, tenants often fail to recognize that landlords have responsibilities, too — including providing habitable premises for tenants

Section 15F of Chapter 186 in the MA General Laws defines the concept of constructive eviction in somewhat broad terms. This section allows tenants who cannot return to uninhabitable premises to terminate the agreement and recover three months' rent or three times sustained damages, the cost of the lawsuit, and reasonable attorney fees. This is true regardless of whether the tenant moves out voluntarily or if the landlord blocks access or has to turn off utilities.

So, what constitutes uninhabitable premises under the law? Certainly the definition includes premises without required utilities, those that fail to meet health codes and even those that fail to provide reasonable security protections for tenants. However, the definition can go much further. In fact a unit that does meet a tenant's right to the quiet enjoyment of their premises might qualify as uninhabitable under the law, if it meets the right conditions.

Of course, tenants cannot simply move out and expect the protection of their rights. The landlord must be aware of the condition — and be allowed a reasonable amount of time to rectify it. Most important, these cases must go to court, where a judge can hear the evidence and make a decision.

Presentation of Evidence is a Key Component in Constructive Eviction Cases

When judges hear constructive eviction cases, they often have to rely on somewhat subjective information to determine the rights of the tenant. Assuming that the tenant promptly notified the landlord of the condition, the judge has to decide whether the condition forced the tenant to move out. Equally important, judges have to determine whether the landlord was allowed enough time to perform repairs or otherwise remedy the situation.

Tenants can strengthen their cases by collecting compelling evidence, including the following:

  • Copies of written requests for landlord repairs or other appropriate action
  • Photographs of damaged property — even broken or missing entrance locks, if applicable.
  • Copies of property inspection reports, assuming that an inspection request was made due to a violation of the Massachusetts Sanitary Code.
  • Witness testimony, which may be most effective in cases involving noisy or dangerous neighbors who remain out of control by a landlord.

Tenants who can produce repair time estimates from several reliable contractors might have an additional advantage when alleging that the landlord failed to perform repairs within a reasonable time period.

These are complex legal cases, and tenants who choose to handle their own presentations in court can easily miss essential details needed to prevail, especially when going against experienced landlords and their attorneys. The best course of action is to seek skilled legal support as soon as a constructive eviction takes place.

Posted in Landlord-Tenant Information

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