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Tenants Facing Displacement Because of the Tornado

Below are questions and
answers for tenants who lived in privately-owned housing that was affected by the tornado in Western and Central Massachusetts.
This information also applies to tenants with Section 8 and MRVP rental
assistance vouchers in private housing. There is also a question at the end
about the right to return if you live in public or subsidized housing.

What should I do if my housing has been condemned?

The Western Massachusetts
Housing Court is currently holding hearings in condemnation cases. As a tenant
you should get notice of these hearings, but if the City can’t find you, you
may not get notice.

It is very important for
tenants to show up at these hearings to make known your desire for relocation assistance. To
find out more, contact: Mass. Justice Project at 1-800-639-1209 to see if your building has been set for a hearing.

How can I find out if my apartment has been condemned?

To find out whether your apartment has been
condemned, contact the local Board of Health. If it has been
condemned ask for a copy of the condemnation order.

As of June 9, the City of
Springfield condemned 514 housing units as a result of the tornado. For more information about
condemned housing units in Springfield housing contact:

City of Springfield Code
Enforcement
Legal Department, 6th Floor
95 State Street, Springfield, MA 01103
(413) 886-5206

What are emergency housing options
if the building I lived in has been condemned?  

If your building has been condemned and you need
emergency housing, you may be eligible for Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter
and rehousing services. To qualify for EA shelter you must have dependent
children under 21 years of age or be pregnant without any dependent children.
Find out more about Emergency Assistance.

To apply for EA bring a condemnation order to the nearest
Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) office
, ask to see a worker from
the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), and tell them that
city has condemned your apartment.

For Monson, Springfield & West
Springfield go to:

DTA / DHCD
95 Liberty Street,
Springfield, MA 01103
(413) 858-1000

If your household is not eligible for Emergency
Assistance, there may be shelter beds available and operated by the Red Cross.
In Springfield, there is are shelter beds at the Mass Mutual Center and in
West Springfield there are shelter beds at Big E Fair Grounds. Read more about
resources from the Red Cross.

How do I figure out whether my apartment can be repaired or not?

To find out whether your apartment can be repaired,
contact the local Board of Health. Ask if they have inspected the property and
if they have, ask for a copy of any inspection reports or assessments done
since the tornado.

For Springfield contact:

City of Springfield Code
Enforcement
Legal Department, 6th Floor
95 State
Street, Springfield, MA 01103
(413) 886-5206

If I have a permanent housing option and decide not to return to my
apartment, what steps should I take?

If your apartment has been condemned or it is
uninhabitable, you are allowed to break your lease or “terminate your tenancy”
and get your security deposit and last month’s rent back. Send your landlord a letter
that you are ending your tenancy. The letter should tell your landlord where to
return your security deposit and last month’s rent. If you paid rent for June,
you also have a right to a rent refund. You can use Sample Letter A.

If you end your tenancy, however, you end your right
to live in the property. If you have questions about you rights, contact the
Massachusetts Justice Project at 1-800-639-1209.

If my apartment can be repaired, do I have a right to return to it?

Yes,
if the premises can be repaired within a reasonable time and at reasonable
costs, you have the right to return.

What should I do if repairs need to be made?

If your apartment has not been condemned, you may
have the right to go back to it. But your landlord may need to repair damage
from the tornado. Contact your landlord to find out when it will be safe for
you to return. You can use Sample Letter B.

If your landlord refuses to make the necessary
repairs, you can ask the Board or Health or Code Enforcement Department to
order your landlord to make the repairs. The Code Enforcement inspector should
send you and your landlord a written report and order about repairing the
conditions.

You can also ask the Housing Court to require your
landlord to make the repairs. Unless the repairs would be unreasonably
expensive, the Court should order your landlord to repair your apartment and
let you return. Bring a copy of any code enforcement orders or reports or
assessments to court. Ask the Housing Court to set deadlines for making repairs
or for assessing whether repairs can be made. Also request that the landlord
send written updates to you and the court about the progress of repairs.

Do I owe rent during the time that I have not been able to live in the
apartment?

You will not owe rent for any time that you were not
able to live in your apartment.

What about my security deposit, last month's rent and June’s rent?

If
a tornado completely destroyed your apartment or if the local Board of Health
condemns it, the lease is terminated. You can request your security deposit and
last month’s rent back. The landlord has 30 days to return your security
deposit payment once you move out. You can use Sample Letter A to
request that your landlord return the money to you. If your landlord does not
give you the money, you can file a Small Claims case against your landlord in
the Housing Court and possibly recover triple damages.

If the apartment was
damaged, but might be repaired, your rights as a tenant are dependent on the
situation. Because the details vary by situation, tenants should consult legal
services for help.

Important

If you
accept the return of your security deposit, the lease is terminated and you
cannot return to the apartment. You should not rush to accept any payment
because it could mean that you cannot continue the lease.

What if I live in public or privately subsidized housing?

For
tenants who lived in public and privately-owned subsidized
housing affected by the tornado in Western and Central Massachusetts, you have
the right to return to your apartment. Or if your apartment is condemned or is
not safe, you have a right to be offered another public housing or subsidized
housing unit.

Contact the landlord or manager of your public or subsidized
housing apartment. Give them a phone number or another way they can reach you
so they can tell you if or when your unit is repaired. 

What other assistance may be available?

On June 10, Governor Patrick filed a request with
the federal government for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA). If you have been impacted by the tornado make sure that you are
registered with the Red Cross for assistance so that if FEMA assistance is
available, you are contacted.

Who can I contact for more information?

For more information, contact the Massachusetts
Justice Project at 1-800-639-1209.

Produced by Legal services in Western and Central Massachusetts and Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Created June 13, 2011

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