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Tenants Facing Displacement and Condemnation

Produced by Legal services in Western and Central Massachusetts and Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed September, 2021

Below are questions and answers for tenants who lived in privately-owned housing. 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?

Go to the condemndation hearing.  Tell them you need relocation assistance. Find a lawyer.

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.

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.

If your household is not eligible for Emergency Assistance, there may be shelter beds available and operated by the Red Cross.  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 disaster.

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 the month the disaster happened, you also have a right to a rent refund for that month. 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, find a lawyer.

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 was not condemned, you may have the right to go back to it. But your landlord may need to repair damage. 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 natural disaster 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 natural disaster, 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?

If you have been impacted by the natural disaster register with the Red Cross for assistance.   The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) may be called and have federal government assistance.  The Red Cross will contact you if FEMA assistance is available.

 

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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