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Rental Handbook: State Sanitary Code

Welcome to the fifth installment of my comprehensive 'Rental Handbook' aimed at helping renters (and landlords) in the Boston area understand the rights and obligations of tenants (sometimes referred to as renters or lessees). In this Handbook, I will approach issues that you may face in dealing with a rental in the city, or in the surrounding towns of Newton and Brookline.

As promised last week, today we will cover the State Sanitary Code and your rights to a habitable living space. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but is meant to cover the most common issues I’ve come across.

In Massachusetts, the State Sanitary Code deems that tenants must be given a place that is comfortable and clean enough for a person to live safely throughout your entire tenancy. The State Sanitary Code protects the health, safety and well-being of tenants and the general public. Copies of the Code in its entirety may be purchased from the State House Bookstore in Boston, and you should both read the Code and consult an attorney when dealing with unsafe or inhabitable living conditions. For convenience, I will outline a sampling of useful provisions stated in the Code:

Water: The landlord must provide you with enough water, with adequate pressure, to meet your ordinary needs. Under certain limited circumstances, you can be charged for water costs so long as it is clearly noted in your written rental agreement and there is a separate meter for your unit. The landlord must also provide the facilities to heat the water at a temperature between 110 F and 130 F, however your written tenancy agreement or lease may require you to pay for and provide the fuel to heat the water.

Heat: The landlord must provide a heating system in good working order. The landlord must pay for the heat, unless your lease requires you to pay for it. From September 16 to June 14, every room must be heated to at least 68 F between 7:00 AM and 11 PM, and at least 64 F at all other hours. During the heating season, the maximum heat allowable in the apartment is 78 F.

Kitchens: The landlord must provide within the kitchen, a sink of sufficient size and capacity for washing dishes and kitchen utensils, a stove and oven in good repair (unless your written lease requires you to provide your own), and space and proper facilities for the installation of a refrigerator. The landlord does not have to provide a refrigerator. If a refrigerator is provided, however, the landlord must keep it in working order.

Cockroaches and Rodents: The landlord must maintain the unit free from rodents, cockroaches, and insect infestation, if there are two or more apartments in the building.

Structural Elements: Every landlord must maintain the foundation, floors, walls, doors, windows, ceilings, roof, staircases, porches, chimneys, and other structural elements of the dwelling so that it excludes wind, rain, and snow; is rodent-proof, weathertight, watertight, and free from chronic dampness; in good repair, and in every way fit for its intended use.

Snow Removal: Every exit used or intended for use by occupants of more than one dwelling unit or rooming unit shall be maintained free from obstruction.

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