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Taking your landlord to court for bedbugs

Produced by Massachusetts Justice Project
Created September 2010

Review Taking Your Landlord to Court.

If your landlord does not cooperate with both you and the Board of Health and fumigate quickly, the Board of Health will continue to cite him and the Board of Health will eventually take him to court. This may take a while.

As a tenant, if your landlord does not fumigate quickly, you can file a Temporary Restraining Order against your landlord on your own. You can seek a court order that the landlord hire a licensed exterminator immediately, pay you back for your expenses, and reduce your rent for the time you had to live with bedbugs.

If you live in a town or city served by a Housing Court, you should file your case there. Otherwise, you can file a case in the District Court.

If you decide to go to court because the landlord is not getting rid of the bedbugs, make sure that you bring written proof of the bedbugs in your apartment and the date the landlord knew about them. Bring your written, dated letter to the landlord to get rid of the bedbugs. Bring your copy of the inspection report. If your neighbors in an apartment building or house also had bedbugs, their inspection reports and letters to the landlord might help in your case, and your letters and inspection reports might help in theirs. You could also be witnesses for each other's cases. So why not cooperate?

If you don't have any written proof of the date you told your landlord about bedbugs, your testimony also counts. However, written proof is best, because otherwise, it may be your word against your landlord's word.

If the Court believes you have bedbugs, the Court will order the landlord to exterminate and should decide you owe less rent for the months you lived with bedbugs. Usually Housing Court judges reduce the rent 50% for the time you had to live with bedbugs.

Also, the Court may order your landlord to pay for you to stay in a hotel during the extermination. The Court may order your landlord to pay for your damaged furniture/property and possibly other damages as well. The Court is most likely to order the landlord to pay for a hotel or damaged personal belongings if you can prove the landlord was aware of the bedbug problem, and was not cooperative in attempting to get rid of the bedbugs quickly.

If you want money back for damaged furniture and property, don't forget to clearly tell the court exactly what your damaged items were worth. It would be best to bring receipts, if you have them. If you don't have receipts, make a written list of costs before court so you don't forget. You could give your list to the Judge so as to be clear.

Going to court on your own may seem like a scary idea. However, many Courts, particularly Housing Courts, are used to seeing tenants on their own. The Housing Court judges know the law. They want to apply it fairly. Thousands of tenants go to housing court on their own every year, and succeed.

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