MA Supreme Judicial Court Upholds Rent Escrow Orders for Tenants at Sufferance

Posted by Marco Sandonato | Nov 08, 2019 | 0 Comments

It was a rare win for Massachusetts landlords in September:  the Supreme Judicial Court made a ruling that confirmed rent escrow orders are legal. If you are a landlord in the greater Boston area, it is important that you understand what the Supreme Court's ruling in the case of Davis v. Comerford means.

The Case of Davis v. Comerford

The dispute behind the Supreme Court's ruling goes back to June 2017, two and a half years after tenants (the Comerfords) had first entered into a lease agreement with the landlord (Davis). Davis informed the Comerfords that he intended to sell the property and gave them a handwritten notice to quit the tenancy. They asked if they could stay for a few months longer and pay a higher rent than originally agreed upon, and Davis agreed – effectively creating a tenancy at sufferance.

In April 2018, the Comerfords were still occupying the house when Davis again notified them they had 30 days to vacate the premises.

In May 2018, things really took a turn. That month, the Comerfords requested the Board of Health to conduct an inspection of the property. The consequent report stated Davis was in violation of an ordinance that required a “certificate of fitness” and that the property violated several sanitary codes and minimum standards of fitness codes.

Next, the Comerfords filed a letter with Davis claiming retaliatory eviction based on the health board report. The Comerfords stopped paying rent, but eventually, a Housing Court judge ordered them to make their rent payments to their counsel's Interest on Lawyers' Trust Account (IOLTA) until the case reached a jury trial and was resolved. The Comerfords appealed the decision that was making them pay their rent to the escrow account, and the case went back and forth until it finally reached the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Ruling and What It Means

It is not uncommon for tenants to claim “conditions issues” when a landlord tries to evict them because they will use that as an excuse to either not pay the rent or only pay a portion of it while they are still living on the property. Given the nature of Housing Court hearings and how long an eviction process can take, landlords have every right to ask that tenants at sufferance continue to make their rent payments to an escrow account until the matter is resolved, and that is exactly what the Supreme Court agreed with. Rent escrow is lawful in these situations.

Sandonato Law Can Help

If you are a landlord who needs to file a rent escrow request, you should contact Sandonato Law. We offer a free initial consultation so you can explain your situation and learn how we can help. You will need the professional and experienced team at Sandonato Law to represent you and protect your interests. Call us today at 617-481-2742 or fill out a contact form to get started.

About the Author

Marco Sandonato

Marco Sandonato a native of Massachusetts, focuses his practice on all aspects of Massachusetts landlord tenant law, business law, and real estate law.   Marco was admitted to the practice of law in Massachusetts in 2008. Marco received his Juris Doctor from New England School of Law while simul...


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