To get repairs made, you can:
- Notify the owner in writing, and ask her to make the repairs.32
- Ask your Board of Health to do an inspection and give you a report.
- After the Board of Health orders the repairs, make the repairs yourself and subtract the cost from your rent.
- After the Board of Health gives the landlord notice about the problems you can withhold some or all of your rent until repairs are made.
- Withhold rent after you give the landlord notice.
- Ask the Court to order the owner to make the repairs. Ask for a
Temporary Restraining Orderor TRO. The court clerk can give you the form. Or you can use Temporary Restraining Order (Form 15).
Make sure you understand your options before you decide what to do.
1. Notify the Owner about the Problems
Notify the owner right away about problems. Notify her by email or mail. Even if you talk to the owner about the problem, put it in writing. You may need proof later. Use Repair Demand Letter (Form 10).
Your letter or email should:
- Be dated,
- List all the problems, and
- Say you want the owner to fix them.
Keep a copy of every letter or email you send the owner. Also keep a record of everything you do to try to fix the problem. You can also notify the new owner’s real estate agent, property manager, or lawyer. The owner must repair problems in your unit and the common areas of your building. She must also take care of snow removal.33
2. Ask Your Board of Health to Do an Inspection
If your situation is very serious, like having no heat in the winter, ask the Board of Health to do an emergency inspection. Give them the new owner’s name, address, and phone number. If the Board of Health says there is a violation of the sanitary code, they give a copy of the report to the owner and order her to make repairs by a certain deadline.34 They should also give you a copy of the report. If they do not, ask for a copy.
You can find your local Board of Health phone number online or at your town hall.
3. Repair and Deduct or Withhold Rent
If the new owner accepts your rent, but refuses to make repairs ordered by the Board of Health you can either:
- Make the repairs then subtract the cost from your rent,35 or
- Withhold rent until the owner makes the repairs.36
To repair and deduct the cost of repairs from your rent follow these steps:
- Ask the Board of Health to do an inspection. They should give you and the new owner a copy of the report that lists the problems that need repair. If they do not give you a copy, ask for one.
- Wait 5 days to see if your landlord begins or contracts to make necessary repairs or 14 days to see if they are ‘substantially’ complete.
- Get the repairs done, and keep receipts.
- Subtract the cost of the repairs from the rent.
- Send copies of the receipts and your calculations to the owner when the rent is due. You may deduct only a total of 4 month’s rent in any 12-month period or the number of months you have lived there if less.37
To withhold some or all of your rent follow these steps:
- Make sure that the owner has notice of the bad conditions. Call the Board of Health and ask them to do an inspection. They should give the new owner a copy of the report that lists the problems.
- If the owner refuses to make repairs do not pay the rent. Instead put your rent money in a separate bank account until the repairs are made. This may protect you if the new owner tries to evict you or says you did not pay rent.38
These options are complicated. If you do not do either of them correctly, you may get evicted. Before you decide to use these options, see: Chapter 8: Getting Repairs Made and Rent Withholding Letter (Form 12) and Repair and Deduct Letter (Form 13).
4. Get a Court Order
You can ask the court to order the owner to make the repairs. Follow these steps:
- Ask the Board of Health to do an inspection. They should give you and the new owner a copy of the report, which lists the problems that need repair. If they do not give you a copy, ask for one.39
- If the owner refuses to make repairs after getting this report, take a copy of the report to your local housing or district court. Also take this information with you:
- The name, address, and phone number for the new owner, or her property manager or real estate agent.
- If the old owner is fighting to keep your building, you could also include the old owner’s information.
- Fill out a court form that asks for a
Temporary Restraining Order (TRO). The court clerk can give you the form. Or you can use Temporary Restraining Order (Form 15).
- The clerk will ask you to pay a filing fee. If your income is low, you can ask the court to waive the fee. Frist, you will have to fill out and file the Affidavit of Indigency Form (Booklet 9).
5. Take Photos and Keep Notes
Good documentation will help you get the problems fixed or win your case if you have to go to court.
- Take photos of the problems.
- Keep notes or make a list of each time you tell the owner about the problems.
- Keep copies of any letters or emails about the problems you send.
- Keep the receipts if you have to fix something yourself.
- The best way to document the problems is to call your local Board of Health or Inspectional Services Department, and ask for an inspection.
32 . During the period between the foreclosure auction and the execution of the foreclosure deed, the "mortgagee-in-possession," i.e., the lender that conducted the foreclosure sale, is responsible for repairs. See section 3 in the definition of "owner," in 105 C.M.R. §410.020.