Who could tell me about tenants rights in MA

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by PhillJones, Feb 28, 2006.

  1. PhillJones

    PhillJones Second Unit

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    We just moved into a new apartment in a brownstone and are but static from the building management I'm sure they think we're problem tenants because we keep phoning them asking them to do stuff that they then refuse to do.

    The latest thing is access to the circuit breakers in our apartment. There's no electrical box and the breakers are in the basement. The basement is locked and they won't give the keys; this being a previous point of contention.

    So I think that it is imperative that we should be able to cut the power to our apartment if there's a flood or electrical problem. They don't agree and won't install a local switch or move the circuit breakers.

    They think I'm just being difficult and want a key to the basement to conduct goat sacrifices or something, so won't discuss a compromise. The electrician says that if I want a local circuit breaker I'll have to pay to have it installed myself.

    I'm not from the US so don't know who I should be talking to. I've tried MA govt websites and just ended up confused.
     
  2. Jeff Gatie

    Jeff Gatie Lead Actor

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    It really depends on what is in the lease (if you have one). There's not much info for electricity on the AG's website:

    The Attorney General's Guide to Tenants' Rights

    It is probably best to call:

    Attorney General Tom Reilly's Consumer Hotline at (617) 727-8400.

    I would imagine if the electricity is paid by the landlord, there is not much you can do. But I'd call the number above. The AG's office handle's all tenant/landlord law.
     
  3. PhillJones

    PhillJones Second Unit

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    Thanks Jeff, I'll try them

    Actually we pay for the Electricity.
     
  4. Jeff Ulmer

    Jeff Ulmer Producer

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    I would think that this is a safety matter, and that denying access wouldn't be allowed. If a fire or some other catastrophe resulted because the panel was inaccessable to the tenant, I could see there being grounds for a lawsuit.
     
  5. PhillJones

    PhillJones Second Unit

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    I suggested that to them but they're not budging. According to Tom Reilly's office, I have to talk to City hall and get an inspection done. They couldn't help with whether there's an actual law or not. The guy on the phone said 'not to my knowledge, but I'm not a Lawyer'. [​IMG]
     
  6. MichaelBA

    MichaelBA Supporting Actor

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    Landlords in Massachusetts are subject to an implied warranty of habitability as regulated by the State Sanitary Code and local health regulations.

    A housing inspection report which certifies that Code violations exist which "may endanger or materally impair the health or safety, and the well-being of any tenant therein or persons occupying said property" would constitute evidence of a material breach and the landlord's notice of that breach. What constitutes a material breach often is defined by broad parameters.

    So, Tom Reilly's Office is correct. Contact City Hall and request an inspection.

    Good luck!

    Michael, ESQ
     
  7. SethH

    SethH Cinematographer

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    If you feel so strongly about this, by all means continue . . . but I'd say you can at the very least kiss your security deposit good-bye.

    From a safety standpoint, it almost makes more sense where it is. Why? If there is a fire or flood, as you mentioned, all of the electricity for the building can be turned off in one place instead of management (or the fire dept) going apartment to apartment trying to determine if everyone shut off their power.
     
  8. Andrew W

    Andrew W Supporting Actor

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    I would think that tenants having the ability to shut off other tenants electricity should be avoided. I would not allow access to the basement either.
     
  9. Jeff Ulmer

    Jeff Ulmer Producer

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    There is nothing stopping the master switch from being located in the basement. I also highly doubt that calling for a safety ispection would be legal grounds for withholding a security deposit, they might do it, but it should be illegal. If the landlord has no regard for the safety of their tenants, they should be forced to comply with safety code. It's for their own good - a few hundred dollars to relocate a breaker, or a ten million dollar lawsuit when someone dies in their building as a result of their neglect.
     
  10. Micah Cohen

    Micah Cohen Screenwriter

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    You don't need access to the basement if the landlord says you don't. Chances are good that you won't ever experience "a flood" or electrical problem that will neccessitate you cutting the power to the building. In any event, you will call the landlord, and he (or his agent) will do it.

    Did you know that you would not have access to the basement when you signed the lease? If so, you don't need access to the basement now. If not, check your lease, and just decide that you will either live without access to the basement, or you will cause a huge uproar, with inspections and whatnot, make the landlord sorry he rented to you, and, in the end, be no farther along on the road of life than you are now. (And, you will end up moving.)

    Chances are the building is safe and in no need of an "inspection" merely to allow you access to the basement. The landlord will be seriously put out by this stuff.

    Is this stuff you agreed would be done when you signed the lease, or is this just new, just-occurred-to-me stuff you feel you want? Is this quality-of-life stuff the landlord needs to do to make the building safe, or just I-want-it stuff? Check your lease to see who is responsible for this kind of stuff.

    If you have a good landlord, he'll do his best to make you happy (so you stay a long time). He'll help you do even stuff he's not required to do. But, you have to take into consideration the landlord's other responsibilities. Like, for instance, running his business.

    If the house is not what you wanted, you may have to consider moving.

    Good luck!

    MC
     
  11. PhillJones

    PhillJones Second Unit

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    We were shown the basement and told that we had access. However, it's not written in the lease. We shouldn't have trusted them.

    The things that we have phoned them about are first, giving us the key to the basement and second, giving us some kind of access to breakers. the other things we've phoned them about were a leaky toilet and the intercom not working. They've said that people would come round at certain time and they've not shown up so we've had to call several times, that's all so far.

    We can't move can we, we've signed a lease and are locked in for 12 months.

    As for the risk being low, well yes, and that's what the realtor said as well the old 'we've never had any problems' line. But by that logic, the risk of a fire is pretty low too, does that make not fitting smoke detectors acceptable? Is the only reason why smoke detectors are a good idea because the law says so?

    What it boils down to is that I consider having access to some kind of breaker is an important safety issue. They don't agree and it seems oppinion of the board is split too. I know that back home in England, this kind of set up would definately be a violation, the advice there is in case of flood or electrical fire, cut the power immediately, don't phone your landlord and hang arround for an hour for somebody with keys to turn up and do it for you, but I don't know whether the law would be on my side here in MA. The halls of residents that I lived in in Manchester had a master switch and fuse box with a local switch for each apartment so power could be cut to the whole building by the fire brigade if needed or to individual apartments by indidual tenants or the maintenance guys in case of emergency or if they needed to drill a whole in the wall or work on the electrics. Then again, lots of building codes and safety rules are different here.

    Seth is of course right. Judging by our interactions so far, even if we are eventually found to be in the right. The building management company would probably take retaliatory action, they seem to be that sort of landlord.
     
  12. Micah Cohen

    Micah Cohen Screenwriter

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    Well, there's a lot of stuff happening here.

    The building has a management company? Are they on-site? If so, the building has a "super," and he has access to the basement mechanicals. You don't need access.

    Is the management company of the building your "landlord"? Management companies don't just rent space, they have to meet all sorts of safety inspections and whatnot -- so your concern about safety is maybe moot. Ask to see the inspection certs. You should be allowed to see them. Another thing to think about: Renter's Insurance. Get it.

    How many other residents of this building are there? Do they all need access to the basement? Or, do they not need access to the basement? How are they handling it? Is there an "association"? If you were shown the basement and told you'd have access, but that is not included in any wording in your lease, then you must find the nice young rental agent who showed you the basement and said that and ASK THEM AGAIN to clarify. Chances are they are agents of the management company/landlord, and can help clarify the situation for you.

    Leaky toilets and broken intercoms are different issues, and the management company should have a maintenance crew to come take care of that stuff immediately. Access to basement mechanicals is not a "must have."

    Does your area of Boston flood regularly?

    MC
     
  13. MichaelBA

    MichaelBA Supporting Actor

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    Phill, according the City of Boston website:

    >>Does a tenant need to have access to the basement?

    Yes! Tenants need access if there are electrical over-current devices (circuit breakers), utility meters or oil tanks in the basement. Access does not always mean that a key must be provided.
     
  14. PhillJones

    PhillJones Second Unit

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    There's no association. As you can imagine, most people don't even know it's a potetial issue. Most people, like the management company think that electrical boxes are something to be reset when too many people turn the kettle on at the same time. A lot of people belong to the 'I've never had a problem school of safety' which I don't subscribe to. I don't think somebody should have to get hurt before a danger is attended to.

    Our area doesn't flood regularly, although the management company say the basement does from time to time but when I say flood, I'm not talking about the water rising, I'm think more of a burst pipe or a shower waste pipe coming unscrewed. It happens even in the best maintained buildings. A common way for people to end up dead in the home is for water from the upstairs to start dripping down through the lightfittings.

    We have renter's insurance.
     
  15. Micah Cohen

    Micah Cohen Screenwriter

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    Leaky toilets... Sewage... Worries about electrical problems and flooding... Bad management...

    Ah, why'd you rent in this building again?

    I would schedule a meeting with someone in management during business hours and hash out your concerns. Say, "Hey, I'd like more maintenance responsiveness; I'd like more assurance that I don't need access to the basement."

    Say, "I'd like to explore getting out of this lease to live in a place I'd be more comfortable."

    You might sacrifice your security deposit, and you risk (depending upon the lease contents) being sued for breaking the lease and being held responsible for the year's rent, but if you have rational and serious problems and concerns, and you can put them in writing to the management, you might be able to get out of this horrible building.

    And for most people, this stuff probably isn't an issue. (Other tenants in the building... They don't much worry about this stuff, right?) The management may be happy to let a "troublemaker" like you go. You should find a place to live where you have more responsive management and more access to safety features you feel are important.

    (Not, mind you, that you are a "troublemaker." You're a concerned tenant. But management may not share your concerns.)

    MC
     
  16. Glenn Overholt

    Glenn Overholt Producer

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    I've never heard of a building with breakers for everybody in one place before, and I've been in plenty of them.

    You could take a shortcut here and find your local fire station and talk to them when they aren't busy. They should know if it is legal or not.

    In any case, that response time is really bad. If the breaker for your fridge gets tripped and you can't get it back on, everything could spoil. Will they cover that?

    Glenn
     
  17. MichaelBA

    MichaelBA Supporting Actor

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    Negotiate out of the lease, as Micah suggests, or contact the City of Boston's Inspectional Services Department.

    The management company's answering service may qualify as an acceptible form of access to the electrical system in the basement. Only the ISD can tell you for sure.

    Inspectional Services Department

    Address:
    1010 Massachusetts Ave.
    5th Floor
    Boston, MA 02118

    Telephone: 617.635.5300

    Facsimile: 617.635.5388

    Web Site:
    www.cityofboston.gov/isd

    E-mail:
    ISD@cityofboston.gov
     
  18. PhillJones

    PhillJones Second Unit

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    Thanks Micah, that is a course of action that is open. I should say though that it's not as bad as all that. The building doesn't seem very badly matintained. They replaced the toilet immediately before we moved in so I have some sympathy for that. I should imagine plumbing features sometimes need a little adjustment after they've been in a couple of days. There may have been extenuating circumstances like the plumber was sick and they had to find another one, who knows. The only reason I bring it up is bacause I reject the argument that 'somebody would be round in 15 minutes' as unrealistic. Also, we haven't had an electrical fire or anything, the wiring seems sound enough but accidents do happen even in the best maintained of buildings.

    Glenn, Ask the fire department, eh? That's an excellent idea. I could do that and be more sure of the legal situation without getting all formal about it.

    Thanks for the links MichaelBA.
     
  19. Micah Cohen

    Micah Cohen Screenwriter

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    So, maybe there's really no issue here. (And, plumbing fixtures don't usually need a "a little adjustment" after they've been installed. Unless water is coming out of them when it shouldn't be.)

    Maybe the building isn't so bad. Maybe you should have your renter's insurance, and sort of lump it, and join the other tenants in the carefree life of the renter, and don't worry about electrical fires and floods and other act-of-god stuff until you have your own home to look after.

    Live in this building for a year, and use the time to search for a home you can buy.

    What do you think?

    MC
     

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