I believe my landlord is charging me more than Massachusetts law allows for a security deposit. I want to go to housing court to get the deposit back. Can the landlord try to evict me as punishment for trying to recover the deposit? -- (Posted by J on the Forum Chat Room)
No. Massachusetts law regarding retaliatory evictions is fairly broad. Chapter 239, Section 2A of MA General Laws creates a defense to any eviction proceeding that is commenced in retaliation against a tenant who has taken some step or action to protect her rights. The statute specifically mentions that a landlord cannot evict a tenant because the tenant (1) filed a complaint or took other legal action at a MA court for damages or to force the landlord to take some action (such as the return of an illegal deposit) or enforce the tenant's rights; (2) reported the landlord and asked inspectional services to inspect the apartment for violations of the sanitary code; (3) withheld rent because of conditions that violate the law; or (4) joined a tenant organization. Additionally, the law creates a presumption that any eviction commenced within six months of the tenant engaging in some protected activity (such as the examples above) is retaliatory. That means the burden is on the landlord to prove that he would have evicted the tenant even if she had not complained about the condition of the apartment, for example.
Also, under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 186, Section 18, if a landlord attempts to raise the rent or to end or somehow change the terms of a tenancy because the tenant engaged in any of the protected activities discussed above, the tenant may be entitled to up to three month's rent in damages, or his actual damages (whichever is greater), plus costs and attorneys fees. Similarly, a violation of these laws may also constitute a violation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act (93A).
Some readers have asked if they can assert retaliatory eviction to force a landlord to renew a lease. In the absence of an automatic renewal clause in the lease which creates a right of renewal for the tenant, I believe it would be difficult to assert retaliatory eviction. The statute mentions "evictions," not a decision to rent to a new tenant at the end of a lease.
For more information or to post a question, visit our Landlord and Tenant Law Discussion Forum.