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Many tenants do not give the landlord trouble with being able to pay rent on time, and many landlords follow all their responsibilities. But when there is a problem, how should it be resolved? There are various remedies that can address a host of problems between landlords and tenants. Find some below.

Communication: Often overlooked, the first and best solution is for the landlord and tenant to schedule a time to discuss the issue in an effort to quickly resolve it.

Withhold Rent: If the landlord refuses to fix a condition, one option available to the tenant is to withhold all or some of the rent until the landlord makes the repairs. Landlords are obligated to provide safe and habitable housing under the state sanitary code promulgated by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the warranty of habitability, and so the tenant’s obligation to pay the full amount may be suspended until repairs are made. Another alternative is for the tenant to make repairs and then deduct the costs from the rent. However, tenants should be careful to consider the questions below as to whether their situation meets the requirements for withholding rent, including:

1. Does the condition exist in the apartment and not the common areas?
2. Does the condition “endanger or materially impair” the health, safety, or well-being of anyone living there?
3. Does the landlord know about the condition?
4. Was the condition caused by someone or something outside of the tenant’s control?
5. Can the landlord make repairs without requiring the tenant to move out temporarily or permanently?

If the answer is yes to all of these questions, itis possible that a tenant may legally be able to withhold rent. It is very important that a tenant keep diligent records of correspondence with the landlord in case the situation rises to the level of legal action. Additionally, tenants should consult an attorney about the proper procedures, advisability and consequences of withholding rent. To that end, Housing Courts often have lawyers on hand to answer these questions – see Housing Court below.

Mediation: If relations between the landlord and tenant are so strained that no meeting is possible, or the tenant tried unsuccessfully to talk with the landlord, another option is to seek a neutral third-party mediator. For more information on mediation services, visit the Attorney General’s Office website and look into working with a Local Consumer Program or other mediation service.

30 Day Demand Letter: If an informal mediation is unsuccessful, the next step may be to submit a Demand Letter 30 days before filing a claim in court. The letter must outline the complaint, list the harm suffered, and explain how the tenant wishes to have the problem resolved. For more information on 30 Day Demand Letters and a template, visit the Office of Consumer Affairs & Business Regulation website.

Small Claims Court: Small claims court is a less formal (and generally less expensive) court proceeding designed to settle disputes of $7,000 or less, and generally without the aid of an attorney. For more information about filing fees, procedures and the decision to choose small claims court, visit the Office of Consumer Affairs & Business Regulation website.

Housing Court: The housing court utilizes a more formalized legal proceeding over civil and criminal actions, including resolution of issues of health/safety, personal injury, breach of contract, discrimination, property damage and other claims. For more information about the Housing Court Department, the housing courts often have a lawyer on hand for the day that may be able to answer some legal questions over the phone or provide further advice. You may also visit the Massachusetts Court System website.

Know your tenant rights and landlord responsibilities. If you are a tenant or landlord and need further direction, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation Consumer Information Hotline at (617) 973-8787 or email the Office.

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