Massachusetts residents, is my apartment legal?
posted by mykescipark to home & garden (21 answers total)
A little over a year ago, I extricated myself from a dangerous domestic situation and had to find someplace new to live on literally a moment's notice. I found a cozy one-room rental in the basement of a condo in Cambridge which, at the time, seemed perfect for recuperating from a traumatic time of life: it was extremely cheap ($695/mo), conveniently located in a major thoroughfare, in a safe and quiet neighborhood. I knew then that it had virtually nothing in the way of amenities, but I was just thrilled to find a space of my own that I could afford on two weeks' notice, so I made do with the lack of creature comforts.
The lease came up for renewal in September, and although I wasn't happy with the place even then, I renewed just because I wasn't at a place (emotionally or financially) where I could yet swing a new place of my own. However, I'm finally back on my feet after saving up for the better part of a year, and now certain things have made me wonder if I shouldn't be pushing back a bit more.
Having set the background, let's get to the meat of the question. There are some shady circumstances that have concerned me all along about the place, and some that are a bit more recent:
- The "apartment" is one room in the rear-facing basement of a house, leading directly out into a shared driveway/courtyard with six other condo units. It's about the size of your average bedroom in a normal house, with one recessed closet and a strange cubbyhole beneath the house's staircase in which I've been able to store extra boxes, etc. It has its own entrance with its own lock, and the door leading into the house itself is latch-locked from both sides.
- The unit has no kitchen, no space for a kitchen, and no access to the house's kitchen. I brought in a mini-fridge and a microwave, but I've been forbidden from obtaining "open-heat" items like hot plates and toaster ovens and such. I wash my dishes in the (tiny) bathroom sink because there is no other sink. As you might imagine, the drain has become quite slow from whatever food debris I've washed off over the past year. I store my room-temperature food in one of those plastic three-drawer units that Target sells for $12.
- The hot water supply is extremely intermittent. It comes and goes, but there are stretches of days where I have no hot water at all in the evenings, and only very brief amounts of hot water in the mornings - between five and ten minutes total before it goes completely cold. This means no shower after the gym, and only a very efficient shower before work.
- My landlord has never provided me with his phone number and always blocks his Caller ID on the rare occasions (maybe three or four times total) when he has called. This may be because he lives upstairs and is (in theory) reachable at any time, but in case of an emergency, he (and I) would be screwed. His phone number isn't on the lease because - surprise - he's never given me a copy of the lease, even though I've signed two of them now.
- The family, although they live upstairs, rarely answers the door when home (they speak very little English) and occasionally ignore me altogether. Once, the power went out mysteriously on a Sunday afternoon (I had come home to make lunch and the microwave apparently tripped a circuit), and although I heard footsteps upstairs, no amount of door-banging or doorbell-ringing would get an answer. Eventually his son came outside and walked right past me down the street, as if I wasn't there. I was without power for a good six hours before it came back on without explanation.
In the "strikes against me" column, I have a cat, which he specifically forbade when I moved in, but despite making efforts to find another home for her (thinking that this apartment was only temporary anyway), I was unsuccessful and just ended up keeping her. He hasn't really complained since; in fact, he's been in here once or twice and hasn't even noted her existence.
I keep thinking that the cat will work against me if it ever came down to legal nitpicking over whether I have the right to get out of this place, since she is technically a violation of the lease that I don't possess, but the cat aside, what do you think, MA residents?
- Is an apartment *required* to have a kitchen, or at least a kitchen-esque space? I've lived in studios with kitchenettes before, but at least they had their own sinks, weren't the same as the bathroom, came with cabinet and food storage space, etc. I can't find anything in the Mass bylaws about being required to have a kitchen - only regulations about what the kitchen must contain, or the standards by which it must be maintained. I know that lease situations for rented rooms in houses must be different, but I think in those cases it's because there is a standing assumption that you have access to the kitchen that is part of the house, and it wouldn't normally make sense to insist that every rented room in a house has its own kitchen.
- The hot water thing is obviously a problem. I've written him two e-mails asking about the problem, and have gotten no response. I am thinking "three strikes" here before calling the City, but do I have to demonstrate having made even more of an effort, e.g., attempting to visit him upstairs more often, sending a Certified Mail letter, etc.?
- Lease. I know he's supposed to provide it within 30 days. Am I required by law to ask for it? What if I don't? Can the lack of a lease copy be added to the list of grievances? And what about the complete lack of a phone number? Is living in the same house (although segregated) supposed to be construed as enough of a contact point? From his e-mail address, I know where he works; would the law consider that ample evidence that I can reach him by phone if need be?
- Is the cat enough of a material defense on his side (e.g., a violation of the rental terms) that it could invalidate all of my other complaints and prevent me from moving out sooner rather than later?
I understand, basically, that I chose the place knowing full well that it didn't have a kitchen and that I'd be living in extremely constricted space, so perhaps the fact that I'm even here at all has already screwed me in terms of arguing its inadequacy from a tenants' rights perspective. I'm just finding the quality of life to be extremely lacking, and the slow accumulation of faults have led me to wonder if this place is "above board" at all. Basically, yes, I'm looking to get out before my lease is up, but I'm wondering if all this is sufficient justification.
Thanks for any thoughts.