Does My Landlord Have to Fix My Refrigerator?

Massachusetts rentals may not require all that you think they do

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Rental properties can run the gamut from large multi-unit buildings to single family homes, from poorly-maintained apartments to well-appointed mansions. Given this range, tenants may have very different ideas about what is expected to be provided by their landlord. But Massachusetts landlord-tenant laws apply equally to all renters and landlords within the state.

The laws provide a starting point for baseline requirements, generally framed by health and safety laws, and what is known as a warranty of habitability. Some communities may have their own local ordinances that provide additional protections. Beyond this, however, individuals are largely free to enter into their own more comprehensive agreements. More sophisticated renters may engage attorneys to represent their interests and negotiate favorable terms, particularly when rented properties are not part of a larger complex. Most tenants do not go so far, though.

Sanitary Code, Warranty of Habitability, Quiet Enjoyment

Under the state Sanitary Code, a rental property must meet minimum standards of cleanliness and safety. This requires that there be working heat, hot water, electricity, ventilation, lighting, kitchens and bathrooms with working sinks, and doors and windows that close and lock—as well as that the building be structurally sound. The warranty of habitability mandates that landlords guarantee rented premises to be livable—again, this essentially means the space must be safe and in good condition—in exchange for the tenant paying fair rent. This promise applies to all rental properties, whether or not there is a written lease—and even if a lease explicitly states that the warranty doesn’t apply. In addition, renters are entitled to a right of “quiet enjoyment” of their rented premises, which means tenants are not required to put up with unreasonable interference with the use of their space.

While each of these requirements covers similar requirements, each can afford tenants different remedies. For example, under the Sanitary Code, certain repairs must be made within 24 hours of notice to the landlord. Breaches of the warranty of habitability can include withholding rent until repairs are made, going to court to cancel the lease, or possibly making needed repairs and deducting from the rent. A violation of a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment can result in a fine to the landlord, as well as monetary damages to the tenant.

Appliances Not Required

It’s important to note, however, that beyond these basic obligations, your landlord may not be required to provide more. Your landlord does not have to provide you with appliances like a refrigerator or washing machine. (They are, however, required to provide you with the space and capacity to hook them up.)

A working stove and oven are required, unless otherwise agreed. If these “optional” appliances are provided, then it’s up to the landlord to maintain them unless explicitly stated otherwise in your lease. If your unit doesn’t have a fridge and you have to provide it, then it’s also on you to fix or replace it if something happens to it.

Of course, you are always permitted to enter into more extensive agreements with your landlord, providing for additional obligations on either or both of your parts. Common additions you may want to account for include things like pets, lawn care, painting and improvements, and parking.

Landlord-tenant law can be complicated. Whether you’re renting from an individual with just a single property, or from a management company with multiple holdings, the best place to start when you have an issue is direct communication. If you find that you need assistance or more information to help you solve a rental problem, talk to a real estate attorney who practices landlord-tenant law

Massachusetts

The state Sanitary Code requires a rental property have working heat, hot water, electricity, ventilation, lighting, kitchens and bathrooms with working sinks, and doors and windows that close and lock—as well as that the building be structurally sound.

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