Laura Gallant is a lawyer with the Northeast Justice Center in Lynn. She has been working in the public arena for 25 years, and she recently spoke with us about landlord/tenant issues and the eviction process. I wanted to share some of the information that she presented.
Housing must meet the statewide standards for sanitary housing. If a tenant thinks that there is a deficiency (for example, no heat, non-functional stove, or broken window), the tenant should notify the landlord in writing about the specific problem. If the landlord does not fix the problem, the tenant has the right to call the local Board of Health and have an inspection. This inspection is free. The Board of Health has the authority to make demands for safe and sanitary housing.
If the tenant decides to withhold rent because of bad conditions, the landlord must be notified of the bad conditions in writing before the withholding starts. The Board of Health inspection is an important tool in fixing the problem. The tenant should save the rent money and be prepared to pay the withheld rent when the time comes.
It is illegal for landlords to retaliate against a tenant for taking a legal action.
A landlord may terminate a tenancy if there is a violation of the lease. The landlord may issue a “Notice to Quit.” If the lease has ended, the tenancy is automatically terminated, and a “Notice to Quit” is not required.
If the “Notice to Quit” expires and the tenant has not moved out or taken action to delay, the landlord may then take the issue to court. The court then issues a “Summons and Complaint” notifying the tenant of the complaint and the court date. The tenant has a right to file an “Answer” and request “Discovery” from the landlord. Deadlines are listed on the “Summons and Complaint.”
As soon as the case is filed in court, it becomes a public record. Future landlords and employers can see the case.
Housing Court cases are all referred to a mediator (Housing Specialist) to try to resolve the issues without going before a judge and jury.
The Northeast Justice Center (NJC) has offices in Lawrence, Lowell and Lynn. They help low-income and elderly people obtain justice in the areas of immigration, public benefits, housing, elder law and crime victims. NJC can be reached at 978-458-1465 (northeastjusticecenter.org).