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How can I Force my Landlord to Make Repairs?

Does Massachusetts law provide any tools I can use to force my landlord to address code violations in my apartment? I have asked him several times to fix the problems, but he never does. -- (Posted by various readers on the Forum Chat Room)
 
First, put your request for repairs in writing and ask that the repairs be performed within a week. (If you are not sure if your problems constitute violations of the health and sanitary code, follow this link to review the code: http://www.lawlib.state.ma.us/landlord.html.)  Obviously, for emergency situations, such as no heat, if the landlord does not respond within 24 hours to a verbal notice, you should go directly to the inspectional authorities.
 
If your landlord fails to make the repairs, it’s time to get the authorities involved. Massachusetts law gives tenants the right to have their apartments inspected by a health inspector. If the inspector finds violations of the state sanitary code or local health ordinances, he or she can issue and order requiring the landlord to make repairs within a specified period of time. Typically, landlords comply with orders to make repairs, so they can avoid facing a judge at the housing court. Simply call your local board of health to schedule the inspection. Massachusetts law requires the inspector to make best efforts to perform the inspection within five days of your request. For emergency situations, such as no water or heat, the inspector should arrive with 24 hours.  In such emergency situations, tenants can also go directly to Housing Court or District court and request an injuction or restraining order (TRO) against the landlord, forcing him to make repairs.
 
For an excellent summary of key code sections and a more in-depth explanation of how to get your apartment inspected, go to: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/cis/cissfsn/sfsnidx.htm Finally, Massachusetts law also allows you to withhold rent if defects in your apartment endanger or impair the health or safety of anyone living in the home (such as: no heat or electricity, no locks, no water, broken toilet, no smoke detector, etc.) The right to withhold rent is found in Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 239, Section 8A. Tenants should review Section 8A carefully and, ideally, obtain legal advice before withholding rent.
When a tenant withholds rent, she runs the risk of facing an eviction proceeding brought by the landlord based on non-payment of rent.  It may be easier for the tenant to simply ask a District or Housing court judge to order the landlord to make repairs for items that violate the Sanitary Code.  This request is know as a Tenant Petition.  Housing specialist at the Housing Court can provide a form for the Tenant Petition.  Masslegalhelp.org also provides this form on their website. 

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