The City Of Pittsfield distributes two handbooks, Information for Landlords and Information for Tenants. Both handbooks address Landlord/Tenant issues and the Fair Housing laws. It also includes information on other local services and sample documents, such as a standard lease, rental agreement and other letters a landlord or tenant may need. It is available at no cost at the Department of Community Development, 70 Allen Street, Room 205 in Pittsfield. The office is open between the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The City also runs a Fair Housing hotline service. The public is invited to call with questions at 499-9367. Service is available between the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, any messages left outside of these hours will be returned the next business day.
The Massachusetts Fair Housing Center recently completed an Analysis of the Impediments to Fair Housing in Pittsfield. Click on the link to read the full report.
Fair Housing Laws
The Title VII Civil Rights Act of 1968 made it illegal to discriminate in housing based on the following :
- Race, color, national origin, sex, religion, familial status(children)
The Massachusetts Anti-Discrimination Law made it illegal to discriminate in housing based on the following:
- Receipt of public or rental assistance
- Physical or mental disability
- Military status
- Sexual orientation.
- Age (excluding minors)
Some types of housing are given an exemption from this rule. For example children may be excluded from housing intended for and occupied by persons 62 years or older. Also owner-occupied two family homes can legally refuse to rent to children or a person with a disability. If, however, they use discriminatory advertising or use the services of a real estate firm to locate prospective tenants the exemption no longer applies.
The two most common types of housing discrimination in Berkshire County are discrimination against families with children where lead is present in the rental unit and discrimination against families or individuals receiving public or rental assistance. In Massachusetts it is illegal to refuse to rent to a tenant and their children because the rental unit contains lead paint and it is also illegal under Massachusetts law to refuse to rent to families or individuals receiving public or rental assistance.
If you believe you have been discriminated against in housing and need assistance in filing a complaint, contact the City’s Fair Housing Officer at 499-9367.
Massachusetts Lead Paint Laws
Lead poisoning is a disease that can cause permanent brain damage to a child’s brain, kidneys and nervous system. It can also result in serious learning and behavior problems. Children under the age of six run the highest risk of lead poisoning because their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive. Pregnant women are also at risk to expose the fetus to lead during fetal development.
Lead paint is most often found on the inside and outside of homes built before 1978. The main way children and adults become lead poisoned is by ingesting lead paint dust or chips. Even a small amount of lead can poison a child. Lead paint under layers of nonleaded paint can still poison a child, especially when disturbed, either through normal wear and tear or home repairs. Most lead poisoning is caused by children’s normal behavior of putting hands or other things which may have lead dust in their mouths. The only way to determine if someone has been poisoned by lead is by a blood test. Children in Massachusetts must be tested at least once a year from when they are nine months old until they are four years old.
The lead law requires the removal or covering of lead paint hazards in homes built before 1978 where any children under six live. Before renting a home built before 1978 the property owner and tenant must sign two copies of the Tenant Lead Law Notification and Tenant Certification Form. If there has been a lead inspection or risk assessment report for the property or if a Letter of Compliance or Interim Control has been issued for the property, a copy must also be provided to the new tenant.
A landlord cannot evict or refuse to rent to someone because of the presence of or suspected presence of lead paint. This is discrimination and is illegal.
For more information regarding lead paint, things you can do to prevent lead poisoning, deleading safely, or the laws regarding lead paint, contact the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (CLPPP) at 1-800-532-9571.
Frequently Asked Questions
1.) How much can my landlord increase my rent by?
If you do not have a lease, a landlord can increase your rent as much as they like. They must give you proper written notice of the increase.
If you have a lease, a landlord cannot increase your rent until the lease renews or automatically renews. They must also give you proper written notice of the increase.
It is, however, illegal in Massachusetts for a landlord to raise the rent due to a tenant asserting their rights. Specifically if you have filed a lawsuit against your landlord, organized or joined a tenants’ organization or reported violations of the State Sanitary Code or other housing laws then a retaliatory rent increase would be illegal.
2.) When can a landlord enter the tenant’s premises?
A landlord may enter the tenant’s premises in the case of an emergency. If it is not an emergency, a landlord needs to provide 24 hour prior notice and the tenant must provide reasonable access to the landlord for the following reasons:
- To make repairs to the apartment as required by law
- To inspect the apartment
- To show the apartment to prospective tenants or buyers.
3.) My landlord is refusing to return my security deposit. Is this legal?
The landlord can keep the security deposit only to pay for damages you may have caused to the apartment or for unpaid back rent. If you caused damage to the apartment, the landlord must give you a detailed list of the damages caused and estimated cost to repair them within 30 days of your moving out. The damages cannot include “reasonable wear and tear”. For example the cost to repaint the apartment because the paint is drab or problems that may have existed prior to your moving in should not be deducted from your security deposit. The landlord must also provide you with proof of the cost of repairs, such as estimates, receipts or invoices to substantiate the cost of repairs.
4.) Heat is included in my rent and my apartment is cold. What should I do?
From September 16 to June 14, the landlord must provide facilities to heat every room (including bathrooms) to at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. and 64 degrees Fahrenheit between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.. If this is not the case and you do not have adequate heat, contact the landlord immediately and make them aware of the situation. Be as specific and detailed as possible about the problem. Document as much as possible the steps you have taken to notify your landlord. If you do not have heat within 24 hours, you may contact the Board of Health. By Massachusetts law, the landlord cannot evict you for reporting a violation of the State Sanitary Code to the Board of Health.
5.) I have a child under the age of six and I was told I can not rent an apartment because there is lead paint in that apartment.
It is illegal for a landlord to refuse to rent to you because of the presence of lead paint. In Massachusetts the law requires that a landlord remove or abate the lead paint condition when an apartment contains a child under the age of six. You may wish to file a housing discrimination complaint against the landlord.
6.) I receive Section 8 housing assistance and was told by a prospective landlord that they do not accept Section 8.
It is against the law in Massachusetts to discriminate against you due to the fact that you receive housing assistance. A landlord, however, does have the right to evaluate your ability to pay your portion of the rent and refuse to rent to you based on those grounds. A landlord also has the right to refuse to rent to you because the housing agency will not pay the requested amount of rent. If you feel that you were refused housing due to the fact that you receive housing assistance, document everything that occurred. The housing agency that issued the voucher can help you investigate if discrimination occurred and will give you information on how to file a complaint.
7.) How late must my rent be before I can be served with an eviction notice?
Your landlord has the right to serve you with an eviction notice or 14 day notice to quit as soon as your rent is past due.
8.) Does my landlord have to give me a reason for evicting me?
If you have a lease, a landlord can only evict you for not paying the rent, violating the lease or using the apartment for an illegal purpose. Once your lease has expired, the landlord does not have to give a reason for evicting you. If you do not have a lease, the landlord does not have to give a reason for evicting you. In order to evict you, a landlord must give you proper notice that your tenancy is being terminated and must have permission from the court to take possession of your apartment.