State High Court Gives Tenants New Defense Against Eviction

In a potential game-changing decision for tenants statewide, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently confirmed that a landlord’s violation of security deposit law is a defense to eviction.

Previously, landlords argued that security deposit violations should not impact their ability to recover possession through eviction. Specifically, the argument was that security deposit violations were totally separate from a tenant’s obligation to pay rent, such that violations shouldn’t impact the eviction process. This argument has now been eliminated.

Massachusetts security deposit laws are very detailed. Among other things, the law requires that landlords:

  • At the time of receiving the deposit, provide the tenant with a signed receipt acknowledging receipt of the deposit, the amount of the deposit, and the name of person receiving the deposit;
  • Within 30 days of receiving the deposit, provide the tenant with a receipt stating the name and location of the bank the funds were deposited into; and
  • Annually pay the tenant the interest accrued on the security deposit funds.

In the case heard by the SJC, the tenant alleged that the landlord had violated each of these requirements. The Court held that such claims can be used a defense to eviction, and may prohibit the landlord from obtaining possession.

In order to prohibit the landlord from obtaining possession, Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 239, Section 8A states that: amount due to the tenant for the violation must exceed the amount owed by the tenant to the landlord; or, if the tenant still owes the landlord after the violations are deducted, then the tenant must pay this amount within one week.

Finally, in many cases, tenants can be represented by an attorney for no out-of-pocket cost. Massachusetts eviction law provides that if a lease would award attorney fees to a successful landlord, then a tenant may also recover attorney’s fees in a successful case. Also, the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act provides for recovery of attorney’s fees, as well as the potential for triple damages, in successful cases.

If you are facing eviction, contact Brine Consumer Law today for a free consultation.

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