As I have recently written about landlord/tenant issues in Massachusetts, I thought it apropos to discuss a new domestic violence law that directly affects landlords. Just last month, Massachusetts enacted a new law that gives victims of domestic violence a fairly broad right to break their leases and have the landlord change their locks. The important provisions of the new law are as follows:
- In order to break a lease, victims are required to provide notice to landlords that they were subject to a sexual assault or rape or under imminent threat of same within three (3) months of the incident.
- Landlords may request supporting documentation such as a police report or restraining order (which they must keep confidential).
- Provided the tenant or co-tenant victim provides the proper notice, she can terminate her lease and be relieved of financial liability to the landlord for the remainder of the rental period. The landlord must return any last month’s rent and security deposit.
- Victims of sexual assault or stalking may require that the landlord change the unit’s locks within 48 hours and at the tenant’s expense. If the landlord fails to act, the tenant may change the locks herself.
- If the perpetrator of the sex crime or threat is a household member (i.e., spouse/boyfriend), the landlord may authorize changing the locks and withholding the new key from the perpetrator.
- Landlords who make a good faith attempt to comply with the new law, and do not give a new key to the alleged perpetrator, are generally absolved from liability to the perpetrator for not providing a key.
- Noncompliance with the new law can result in damages against the landlord equal to 3x the rental amount, plus payment of the tenant’s legal fees, which may be set off against any unpaid rent.
The bill, as finally passed, was signed off by both tenant and landlord industry groups after several years of debate. It is clearly a step forward for victims of abuse. If you are a victim of domestic abuse and you have to leave your apartment, not violating your lease is one less thing you have to worry about. It also gives landlords a way to deal with a request by a tenant to change the locks in order to keep another tenant out. Before this law, landlords faced with a request by a tenant to change the locks in order to keep another tenant out faced a difficult situation. Property owners now have a clearer path to navigate a difficult situation and help a victim of abuse. It is also, as a landlord, one more thing you need know. A link to the new Massachusetts domestic violence law can be found here.
This article is a slightly modified version of a January 13, 2013 post by Rich Vetstein on 1/13 on The Mass. Real Estate Blog and posted with his permission. Rich writes on a variety of subjects and I highly recommend you check him out!