Some landlords act in ways that violate criminal laws. If your landlord breaks into your apartment without your consent, assaults you, or commits any other serious offense, call the police at once. Ask the police to seek a criminal complaint against your landlord. When the police request that a criminal complaint be issued, they are almost always successful. For more information about criminal cases, see Chapter 14: Using the Court System - Criminal Cases.
Unfortunately, judges rarely enforce criminal laws against landlords. The prospect of facing a criminal complaint, however, may prevent some landlords from committing criminal acts. What follows is a summary of criminal laws most frequently violated by landlords.
1. State Sanitary Code Violations
It is a criminal act for a landlord to willfully allow violations of the state Sanitary Code.89 If the landlord has not made the necessary repairs within the time period designated by a local health inspector, the Board of Health can file a criminal complaint.
As a tenant, you also have a right to file a criminal complaint.90 This can be difficult in many courts other than a housing court, but, with persistence, you should be able to do this. See Chapter 8: Getting Repairs Made, in the section called Go to Court.
2. Entering Your Apartment Illegally
If the owner enters your apartment without your permission, she is guilty of trespass. Conviction on a trespass charge is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and $100.91 For more information, see Chapter 8: Getting Repairs Made -Landlord's Right to Enter Your Home.
3. Cutting Off Services
It is a criminal act for a landlord to willfully or intentionally interfere with your "quiet enjoyment" of the premises. It is also a criminal act for a landlord to willfully or intentionally fail to furnish water, hot water, heat, light, power, gas, elevator service, telephone service, janitor service, or refrigeration service where the landlord is required by the terms of your tenancy agreement to provide these services.92 The penalty provisions of the law are a fine of $25 to $300, or up to 6 months in jail.
4. Failure to Provide Locks
A landlord is required to provide adequate locks for your individual apartment, as well as locks at the building entrances if you live in a building with more than 3 apartments.93 Willful failure to provide locks can result in your landlord's being fined up to $500.
90 . Commonwealth v. Haddad, 364 Mass. 795, 798 (1974). The rationale behind this decision may be applicable to other crimes discussed in this section. The court noted: "In general, anyone may make a criminal complaint in a District Court who is competent to make oath to it. General statutes imposing a duty to prosecute on particular public officials are read as directory only, and do not exclude the right of any other citizen to enter complaints for a violation of the law."