More so than not, cases brought before Massachusetts housing courts are cases involving 93A violations. These violations refer to the Consumer Protection Act and are also violations of Chapter 93A of the Massachusetts General Laws. According to Chapter 93A, it is unlawful for a landlord to threaten to use, attempt to use, or actually use any unfair or deceptive acts against a tenant or anyone in the leased unit. In many cases, 93A violations occur when a landlord tries self-help eviction methods, like turning off the utilities, to force a tenant out of the unit. Self-help practices are illegal; you must comply with the law when you want to evict someone. But 93A violations do not pertain only to wrongful eviction practices, they materialize in different forms as well.
If you, as a residential landlord, want to build good relationships with your tenants and prevent 93A violation-based legal action, then you should familiarize yourself with the law and, if you receive a 93A violation letter, contact an experienced landlord/tenant lawyer in Boston to resolve the issue as soon as possible, preferably before trial.
Here's an overview of 93A violations in relation to tenancy. Contact Marco Sandonato to get answers to additional questions, to start a lawful eviction action, or to respond to a 93A violation demand letter.
What are 93A Violations?
The Consumer Protection Act lays out in clear detail what violations are. Below is a summary of what could be involved in unfair or deceptive acts by a landlord. Generally, a deceptive or unfair act is any action violating current laws, rules, or regulations aimed at the health, safety, and welfare of the community. Examples include:
- violation of local building codes, housing codes, and state sanitary codes;
- acts of retaliation against a tenant;
- unfair practices to collect rent or other debt (e.g., late fees);
- failure to comply with the law on security deposits;
- refusal to repair defects after given proper notice;
- interference with a tenant's right to quiet enjoyment;
- warranty of habitability breaches;
- acts of intimidation, e.g., sending documents to appear as though court-ordered;
- failure to place in the lease contact info of landlord or managing agency;
- failure to provide a copy of the lease within 30 days after signature; and/
- failure to accept court papers from the tenant.
A tenant can use other conduct, too, so long as the tenant can convince the judge that the conduct was unfair and deceptive.
The Consumer Protection Act, however, does not apply to all landlords. Three criteria must be satisfied to not be the subject of 93A violations:
- you own or manage rental units that make up a two or three-family building;
- you live in the building, too; and
- you use the rent money to cover the bills.
In any other situation, you could be vulnerable to Chapter 93A claims.
What are the Consequences for Boston Landlords who Violate Chapter 93A?
The consequences of a 93A violation are significant, especially if a tenant claims and can prove an "injury". A tenant could potentially request and get the following:
- an injunction against you (to stop you from doing whatever the tenant states you are doing unfairly or deceptively);
- compensation for the actual loss;
- money damages that are double or triple the actual amount of damages (when the tenant shows you were aware or should have been aware that your conduct was unfair or deceptive);
- money damages for emotional distress;
- compensation for loss of time at work; and
- reimbursement for reasonable attorney's fees.
As such, the consequences can be significant if the tenant wins, especially if the tenant wins at trial – you never know what a judge or jury will award. It may, therefore, be in your best interest to settle.
A lot of it depends on the demand letter. This letter should describe what violations the tenant clams you have committed, what the injury or harm is to the tenant, and what the tenant wants you to do.
To note, a demand letter by the tenant s not required if the 93A violation claims are raised as a counterclaim to an eviction case.
Who Should You Contact in the Boston Metro Area if You Receive a 93A Letter?
If you received a 93A demand letter, it is important to respond to it. You may want to seek legal counsel, however, before you do. You want to make sure your response is clear, supported by documentation, and open to a settlement – if that's the best solution in your situation.
Marco Sandonato, an experienced attorney representing landlords throughout the Greater Boston metropolitan area, can review the claims made in the demand letter and outline to you what your best options are and the potential outcomes for settling or going to trial. It's best to speak to Marco Sandonato as soon as possible after receipt of the demand letter so you can respond timely and appropriately. Plus, the tenant only has to wait 30 days before he or she files a lawsuit.
Contact Sandonato Law today to schedule an appointment today.