Implications of a lease that violates state law
December 31, 2016 1:10 PM   Subscribe

YANML, but say I am under a lease that includes terms that violate state law. Specifically, my landlords state they will not deal with removal of ice or snow (they are required under Massachusetts law to do so). What are the implications here? Does this nullify my lease, or at least give me an enforceable case for wanting to break it?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
IANAL, but my understanding is that one illegal clause doesn't necessarily invalidate the lease automatically, but it DOES render that clause null and void, which gives you grounds to demand that they clear the snow and ice, and if they don't you then generally have legal grounds to hire someone to clear your snow and ice and deduct the price from your rent. Whether you can break the lease altogether over their failure to clear snow and ice will depend on the law in your jurisdiction; you should consult with a lawyer.
posted by Itaxpica at 1:16 PM on December 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

Make sure you're correct that it's illegal; if you have your own exit to the outside (as is often the case in a two- or three-family house) you can actually be responsible for snow removal if your lease says so (mine does).
posted by mskyle at 1:46 PM on December 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Many leases contain clauses for things not allowed by law
posted by SemiSalt at 1:48 PM on December 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


The relevant state law seems to be CMR 410.452 which reads, in part:

The owner shall maintain all means of egress at all times in a safe, operable condition and shall keep all exterior stairways, fire escapes, egress balconies and bridges free of snow and ice, provided, however, in those instances where a dwelling has an independent means of egress, not shared with other occupants, and a written letting agreement so states, the occupant is responsible for maintaining free of snow and ice, the means of egress under his or her exclusive use and control.

It's worth noting that the exception mskyle mentions only applies to exits that serve your unit and only your unit. So for example, if you lived in a unit with its own door, the landlord could make you shovel the path to that door, but not a driveway that was shared between units.

Generally speaking, though, courts tend not to strike down contracts just because one clause is illegal, as long as the contract as a whole still makes sense without that clause. So no, this is not a "get out of lease free" card.
posted by firechicago at 2:09 PM on December 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

IANAL, but I came here to say what mskyle said, that this may or may not be illegal, depending on the specifics of your living situation. This link does a good job of explaining some of the details, and the info is fairly recent (2015). This also can vary depending on what town/city in Massachusetts you live in.

If this is in fact an illegal clause, it appears that the illegal clause is invalidated, but the lease is not, according to this source.

Again, IANALawyer, IANALandlord, although I am a tenant in Massachusetts.
posted by litera scripta manet at 2:23 PM on December 31, 2016

Typically a lease (and every other contract I've ever signed) has a severability clause that says if one section is invalidated the rest remains in force. What is your goal here? To break your lease? Or to not have to shovel snow? Advice on how to proceed will be different for each case.
posted by jeffamaphone at 3:16 PM on December 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am not a lawyer, but it wouldn't surprise me if Itaxpica was correct, and many leases I've had specifically state that this is the case. That said, it also wouldn't surprise me if not removing snow creates some sort of unlivable / unsafe situation entitling you to break your lease, keeping in mind I know nothing about MA law.

To break the contract, you may have to give your landlord notice and opportunity to cure. Eg "you can't do that, you are legally obligated to remove snow, and if you don't, I will consider the apartment unlivable, the lease void, and will move out, expecting my security deposit back within 30 days. My move out day will be X".

Make sure that you give them notice in writing, even if you first talk to them on the phone first. Try to find a tenant's rights advocate in your area before you do this (or consult a lawyer), especially if you want to pull off breaking your lease.
posted by Phredward at 3:20 PM on December 31, 2016

Never withhold rent money without consulting a local tenants rights or lawyer.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:56 PM on December 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

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