Chapter 93A is a consumer protection law against unfair or deceptive practices. It allows consumers to bring civil lawsuits against businesses (a category which includes landlords) for damages that may include actual losses, compensatory damages and legal expenses. Furthermore, courts may award triple the damages. Thus, it is important for landlords to understand rental laws and reduce liability. Here are a few examples of common Chapter 93A lawsuits against landlords.
Security Deposit Disputes
One of the most common lawsuits against landlords relate to security deposits. Landlords may not charge more than one month’s rent for security deposits. Additionally, the funds must be placed into a separate escrow account within a Massachusetts bank. Interest must be paid out yearly. Upon vacating the unit, landlords must return security deposits within 30 days and provide evidence of repair costs for any amounts withheld. Failure to do any of these things can leave a landlord at risk for a Chapter 93A lawsuit.
Property Maintenance Issues
Landlords have a responsibility to provide a rental unit that meets Massachusetts safety and sanitation laws. Misrepresenting the legality of property conditions or failing to correct known issues can result in serious issues for landlords. Furthermore, if a landlord fails to address a problem and a tenant does so on their own, landlords are responsible for reimbursing that expense within a reasonable amount of time. Tenants who believe landlords have unfairly handled property safety issues and/or code violations can pursue a Chapter 93A lawsuit.
Contracts and Notices
Another area that falls under Chapter 93A involves paperwork such as rental agreements, notices, and demand letters. Landlords must use clear language in rental agreements and include lawful terms. Anything that appears deceptive can be an issue. Additionally, landlords should not use scare tactics in notices or make them appear more official or judicial than they actually are. Finally, landlords must accept any notices sent to them at their regular address.
Evictions & Rental Agreement Terminations
Rental and eviction laws in Massachusetts are very specific. To avoid common Chapter 93A lawsuits against landlords, it is critical to comply with Massachusetts laws relating to lease terminations and eviction proceedings. This includes applicable timeframes, notices that must be sent, and accessing or taking possession of units. Any deceptive or unfair approaches to evictions and terminations can be a liability for landlords.
Summary of Common Chapter 93A Lawsuits Against Landlords
The above are just a few examples of common Chapter 93A lawsuits against landlords. Massachusetts rental laws lean heavily towards protecting tenants. The best way for landlords to reduce liability is to follow legal guidelines carefully and be conscious of anything that may seem unfair or deceptive. Obtaining legal assistance in drafting rental agreements, sending notices, etc. can help landlords avoid costly mistakes.