April 2, 2023:- This month the revised version of the State Sanitary Code goes into effect. One of the changes that landlords should note is the duty to provide alternative housing for tenants if the local board of health has condemned a unit as unfit for human habitation.

The owner needs to provide “comparable, suitable housing” for the shortest of the following time periods:

  1. The remaining term of the lease or rental period;
  2. [Until] such time as the residence is deemed suitable for habitation by the board of health;
  3. [Until] such time as the occupant finds alternative, permanent housing and voluntarily terminates tenancy.

Housing Court judges already have the authority to tell landlords to provide alternative housing (e.g. a motel) when the board of health has condemned a unit. Now that it is a Code requirement, the board itself will be able to issue these orders.

With tenancies at will, i.e. month-to-month, the remaining rental period could be a couple of weeks, depending on when the board condemns the property. But landlords should bear in mind that a judge could still order them to pay to house the tenants for longer, even after the board’s alternative-housing order has expired.

Would that be lawful? Does landlord-tenant law allow judges to order the owners of condemned dwellings to pay to put up tenants in a motel for longer than the remaining weeks of their month-to-month tenancy? Taking that question to the Appeals Court in order to find out would probably cost more than the alternative housing. More cost-effective by far to keep the unit up to Code and avoid the condemnation.

Photo by benjamin lehman on Unsplash

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