Can I legallly be denied access to my fuse box?
February 17, 2008 4:02 PM   Subscribe

MA filter: Must I have fuse box access if I rent an apartment?

I live on the 2nd floor of a 2 floor house. The landlord lives downstairs and has complete access to the fuse box. I, on the other hand, cannot access the fuse box. This makes for very frustrating times when the fuse blows (often) in my apartment and I have to ask the landlord to reset the fuse. It's worse when the landlord is off at work and not home to reset the fuse because then I have to wait hours for my power to come back on.

In Massachusetts (Milton), must a tenant have access of their own fuse box legally? If this is the case, where can I get a copy of this regulation so I can show my landlord and get him to either give me access to the fuse box or install one in my apartment?
posted by pikaboy202 to Law & Government (7 answers total)
I took a very quick look over the MA building code, but it doesn't seem to have much in there about electrical, and I can't find a state electrical code online.

Your town/city/county engineering department (or whatever the call the guys that approve building permits) should be able to point you to the exact regulation you're looking for.
posted by jjb at 4:14 PM on February 17, 2008

Aside from regulations requiring it, you might look at the net result: you being without power for hours through no fault of your own, as some sort of constructive eviction. No idea if that would work, but if I were going to do a bunch of legal research, it's something I'd check out.
posted by toomuchpete at 4:47 PM on February 17, 2008

Call the MA board of building regulations and standards; they'll be able to tell you if you have to have access to fuses which control your part of the duplex. Also call the MA Housing Authority and they'll be able to tell you if you are legally obligated to have access to the fuses. --You can be re-routed there by calling the AG's consumer affairs division (afaik) at 617-727-8400.
posted by Gular at 5:04 PM on February 17, 2008

Before getting the lawyers involved....

- Have you tried just asking nicely?

- What's the best outcome for you?
- Does it mean access to the landlord's house? Is that realistically something they would ever agree to?
posted by TravellingDen at 5:16 PM on February 17, 2008

I hate to be all Captain Obvious about it, but if the fuse is blowing often, there's something seriously wrong with the house electrics. The house probably needs an additional circuit or two to be installed, ideally a separate one for high-power-draw devices such as the washing machine and clothes dryer. If it's just due to overload, this should solve the problem.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:50 PM on February 17, 2008

You are asking the wrong question. You must find out why the fuse is blowing, and stop it from happening!

If we are actually talking about breakers, rather than fuses, there is a chance that a breaker is failing. Is it always the same breaker that trips? There are some easy things you can do to figure out if the breaker is working at least approximately properly.

Otherwise, unless something very strange is going on, you are using the apartment's electrical system in an unsafe manor. Presumably you are plugging too many things into one circuit because it is convenient for you. Like picking the nearest plug for the vacuum, even though a computer and space heater are already on that circuit - and running. Stop doing that! Just learn the layout of circuits in your apartment, and approximately how power is drawn by the devices you use, and then make better decisions about what plugs to use. If that means you have to use an extension cord on the vacuum, so be it.. (there are lots of safety details I could go into hear, but common sense is enough). Perhaps the plugs and lights in your apartment are organized so badly that it is completely impractical to find a behaviour based solution.. You need to put some effort in first, to establish that that is the case, but if it is, go to your landlord with the problem. For example, "there is only one circuit for the entire bedroom, and I need to have X-Y-Z running in there all the time, can we please have a new circuit installed."

Finally, just some guesswork about the actual question.. It is, of course, becoming more and more common that individual units have direct access to breaker panels. This is in large part because landlords want to have separate meters for each unit, and thus separate utiliity bills that can be passed on to tenants. However, it is probably also related to changing electrical codes - by which I mean, a user accessible breaker panel in each unit may be considered a safety measure. That probably wouldn't do you any good, because grandfathering normally makes old construction compliant with new codes. I think it is unlikely that landlord and tenant laws address this issue directly, but toomuchpete is onto something..
posted by Chuckles at 10:36 PM on February 17, 2008

2002 National Electric Code, Section 240.24, Part B:
(B) Occupancy. Each occupant shall have ready access to all overcurrent protection devices protecting the conductors supplying that occupancy.

Exception No. 1: Service and feeder overcurrent protection devices are not required to be accessible to occupants of multiple-occupancy buildings or guest rooms of hotels and motels, if electric maintenance is provided under continuous building management.
Now, that being said, it's entirely possible that the building you live in is grandfathered in to an older version of the electric code, and is an exception. You should check with your local codes enforcement folks to be sure. Seconding what others have said, however, that you should probably figure out why you're tripping breakers, rather than just working around that problem.
posted by jferg at 12:12 PM on February 18, 2008

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