How to use the Housing Code Checklist

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Massachusetts Law Reform Institute with assistance from legal services offices in Massachusetts

Everyone has a right to a safe home. In Massachusetts, the state Sanitary Code is the main law that gives tenants a right to decent housing. The state Sanitary Code sets the minimum requirements for rental housing. The Housing Code Checklist in this "how-to" will help figure out if your home meets these requirements.

Download this "how-to" and the Housing Code Checklist as a PDF booklet in English, Spanish and Portuguese. Or, you can use Up To Code, a website that can help you document problems and notify your landlord about the problems.

What if I am facing eviction?

If you are facing an eviction for nonpayment of rent or a no fault eviction (where you have done nothing wrong), you may be able to use the Sanitary Code to prevent the eviction.

If you prove to a judge the landlord knew about the serious conditions before you stopped paying rent, the judge may not order you to move. This is because a tenant’s duty to pay rent is based on the landlord’s duty to keep the apartment in good condition. A judge may also:

  • Order you to pay only some of the rent the landlord claims you owe.
  • Order the landlord to pay you money because you lived with such bad conditions (even if the problems were fixed).
  • Order the landlord to make repairs. 
What if the landlord has filed a court case against me?

If your landlord has filed a court case against you for an eviction or rent, ask for an inspection of your home as soon as possible. It is best to have an inspection before your trial date. If you go to court, it is important to tell the judge about the conditions that existed at the time you moved in and after you moved in.

Wht if my landlord tries to get back at me?

Retaliation is against the law. It is illegal for your landlord to retaliate against you for notifying them in writing or a housing inspector about bad housing conditions. It may be retaliation if the landlord raises your rent, substantially changes the terms of your tenancy, or tries to evict you within 6 months after you have made a written complaint to the landlord or made a complaint to the local code enforcement agency about code violations. If the landlord does, they will have to show a good reason for the increase or eviction which is unrelated to your complaint. You may be able to sue the landlord for damages if the landlord tries this. 

How to use the Housing Code Checklist

Document the problems.

Having proof of problems with your housing conditions is key to solving the problem. 

  • Take photos or videos of the conditions.
  • If you take photos on your phone, you will need to print them out if you go to court.
  • Make sure your photos show the problems clearly.
  • Document the date that these photos were taken.

If you use the Up to Code website, you can upload photos and add other information about each problem.

Fill out the Housing Code Checklist.

To help you identify what is wrong, download and fill out the Housing Code Checklist. Check off the violations in your home. These include violations in common areas or violations with building systems shared by tenants, such as plumbing and heating.

Write in the left-hand column the approximate date your landlord knew (or someone working for your landlord knew) about each violation. If the problem existed when you moved in or when a new landlord bought your building, write down that date.

The right-hand column in the checklist tells you the actual part of the state Sanitary Code that applies in case you need to find it. This checklist is not a complete list of all violations in the Sanitary Code.

Find the complete Sanitary Code and related guidance on the state's website.

Notify your landlord about problems.

Your landlord is only responsible for fixing problems that they know about. Make sure your landlord knows about problems in your house by telling them, even if you think that they should already know. It is best to tell them in writing.   


The Sanitary Code refers to a landlord as an “owner;” we use the term “landlord” instead. 

Give your landlord reasonable access to your apartment.

You must give your landlord reasonable access to your apartment to inspect it and make repairs where there are bad conditions. Your landlord must have your permission to enter your apartment where there are bad conditions. The new Sanitary Code requires that the landlord give tenants at least 48 hours notice for non-emergency repairs. The notice may be less if there is an emergency, like a water leak.

Call for a code inspection.

 Everyone in Massachusetts has a right to have their apartment checked by an official to make sure the apartment is up to code. Your town or city Board of Health or Inspectional Services Department does the inspection.

Before you call an inspector, it is best to give your landlord a chance to make the repairs. If your landlord refuses to make repairs, call your local Board of Health or Inspectional Services Department to get an inspection. Ask for the code inspector or health inspector. You can often find contact information on-line. Or call your city or town hall to get the telephone number of the code enforcement agency.

When the inspector comes to your apartment, show the inspector the problems. The inspector may only put problems into the report if they see them. For example, they can only report rodents or cockroaches, if they see some sign of them. It is best to walk around with the inspector and make sure they see all the problems on your checklist. The inspector must write down all violations. It is the law.

Also, make sure that you review the occupant’s responsibilities in this checklist before an inspector comes so that you cannot be cited for any problems you may have caused. 

Get a copy of the code report.

Ask for a copy of the report

Before the inspector leaves your apartment, ask for a copy of their report. The inspector must give you a copy of the code report before they leave - if you ask for it. The inspector must also sign the report after the words, “signed and certified under the pains and penalties of perjury.” If they have not signed it, you should get another copy of the report and repair order a few days later where they have signed it. The signed version is important to keep in case you have to go to court.

Repair order and report

A few days later, your landlord should get a copy of the report and a repair order. You should also get a copy of both in the mail. The repair order states the date or the amount of time your landlord has to fix the violations. If you do not get a repair order in the mail, contact the inspector or go to the Board and ask for a copy of the report and repair order.

Notice to the Landlord

Ask the Board of Health or Inspectional Services Department to give you a copy of the “receipt for the return of service on the landlord.” The receipt shows the landlord got the report and the repair order and the date they got it. 

Certified code report

To use the report in your court case, it should have the inspector’s original signature after the words, “signed and certified under the pains and penalties of perjury.” If your copy does not have the signature, take it to the Board of Health or Inspectional Services Department. Ask them to certify it. If you cannot get the code report certified, take it to court anyway and ask the judge to look at it.

Landlord failure to fix violations.

If your landlord fails to correct any problem within the time ordered by the Board of Health or Inspectional Services Department, contact the inspector. Ask for a reinspection. You may also need to look at other options. What you can do and what you want to do depends on your situation.

A landlord may pressure you to move out if you raise complaints about the conditions or go to court to get repairs made. If you do not want to move out, do not sign an agreement in the hallway or in mediation that says you will move out.

Learn more about your options if a landlord refuses to make repairs.

Using the code report in a court case.

If you have filed a case against your landlord to make repairs or your landlord has filed an eviction case against you, bring your certified copy of the inspector’s code report and photos to court on the trial date. When it is your turn to present your case:

  • Start by describing the most serious problems in your home.
    Use the Housing Code Checklist to help you. Tell the judge:
    • how long these problems existed,
    • when and how the landlord knew or should have known about them, and
    • what steps, if any, the landlord took to repair them.
  • Show the judge photos of the bad conditions.
    Tell the judge when they were taken and what they show. Use only 1 or 2 clear photos of each problem. 
  • Show the judge your copy of the code report.
    Tell the judge about the hardships the bad conditions caused you. For example, if the heat was bad and windows were drafty, tell the judge if your children caught cold or if you had to sleep in the kitchen close to the stove to stay warm. If your stove was broken and you could not cook, tell the judge if you had to spend extra money to buy cooked food or eat out. Let the judge know if you or your family had to miss school, or work, or lost sleep.
  • Learn more about your legal rights and how to present your case in court.


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