Personal Injury Claims – The Warranty of Habitability and Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment in Massachusetts

Landlord Liability

In Massachusetts there are three ways a residential landlord can be liable to a tenant for personal injuries caused by defects in rented premises: negligence, breach of the warranty of habitability and breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. A claim for negligence is not specific to residential landlords and can be brought by anyone against any property owner where a hazardous condition on the property causes injury or damage. However, breach of the warranty of habitability and breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment, are unique to residential property.

They are implied into every residential tenancy and cannot be waived. In considering whether a defect in the premises constitutes a material breach of the warranty of habitability, a court considers (a) the seriousness of the claimed defects and their effect on the dwelling’s habitability; (b) the length of time the defects persisted; (c) whether the landlord received notice of the defects; (d) whether the residence could be made habitable within a reasonable time; and (e) whether the defects resulted from abnormal conduct or use by the tenant.

The covenant of quiet enjoyment of residential premises is related to, although distinct from, the warranty of habitability in that the covenant prohibits a landlord from the willful, intentional, reckless or negligent interference with a tenant’s quiet enjoyment of the leased premises. A landlord’s negligence for purposes of a breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment can be proved by evidence of the landlord’s failure to repair defects for which he or she had notice, or negligent conduct in making repairs.

Case Study: Slip and Fall Injury outside Massachusetts Apartment Building

In one recent case in the Northeast Housing Court in Massachusetts, a tenant sued his landlord for damages after he slipped and fell on ice in the driveway of his apartment building. In that case, the jury returned a verdict finding the landlord 47% at fault for the accident, and the tenant 53% at fault. Based on the Massachusetts law governing comparative negligence, the plaintiff was barred from recovering on his negligence claim because he was found to be more than 50% at fault. (see Legal News, April 2015) The tenant, nevertheless, pursued his claims for breach of the warranty of habitability and breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. The trial court judge found that the jury’s finding that the landlord was negligent established the existence of a material housing defect and that the defective condition of the premises due to the landlord’s negligence constituted a material breach of the warranty.

The trial court judge also acknowledged that under current Massachusetts law, comparative negligence doesn’t apply as a defense to a breach of warranty of habitability claim and could not, by itself, bar recovery. The judge concluded, however, that the plaintiff’s choice to use the rear stairway to reach the street, knowing the condition of the driveway, amounted to an unreasonable misuse of the premises that caused his own injuries. The judge also denied the plaintiff’s claim for violation of the covenant of quiet enjoyment because liability was based solely on negligence and the plaintiff’s negligence exceeded that of the landlord. The judge did, however, note that there was no appellate ruling on the issue, paving the way for a potential appeal.

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If you or a loved one were injured because of someone’s negligence, contact Attorney Allison now for a free consultation by calling 978-740-9433 or filling out our free consultation form.  We look forward to talking to you about your claim.