The Massachusetts State Sanitary Code has been updated after several years of debate, and the new version will come into effect from April 1. The Department of Public Health decided that the existing code was outdated, ambiguous, and in some cases, obsolete. They sought input from state and local officials, landlord, and tenant groups to produce the first major overhaul of the code since 1994. The new version of the code includes tweaks to existing provisions, renumbering of certain sections, and significant changes to some others, with new sections also added.
This blog post provides a summary of some of the most important new provisions of the code that apply to multi-family apartment buildings. The new version of the code states that landlords must give tenants at least 48 hours’ notice before accessing their apartments for the purpose of correcting Code violations, except in an emergency situation. The appointment for access must be scheduled, where possible. Landlords are still required to provide a stove and oven, and now also a refrigerator and freezer, unless the lease obligates the tenant to supply these appliances. The refrigerator and freezer provided should contain a combined storage area of at least 11 cubic feet.
The new code also requires landlords to ensure that the wall above a kitchen countertop has a smooth, non-absorbent, easily cleanable surface and forms a watertight seal with the countertop itself. The wall surface must extend at least 24 inches above the countertop, where practicable. The required temperature range for hot water continues to be 110-130 degrees, except for bathtubs or showers, where the maximum temperature has been reduced to 120 degrees. Fireplaces will not be considered as meeting the requirements of a heating system, like portable electric space heaters.
The heating season will run from September 15 through May 31, and local health boards are authorized to shorten the heating season throughout a particular city or town so as to begin no later than September 30 and end no earlier than May 15. Landlords are now required to give tenants who purchase their own electricity access to their apartment’s electrical distribution panel. Owners must post their contact information next to the mailboxes or in another readily-visible location, even if they employ property managers living on-site. The telephone number of the owner and property manager must be monitored regularly, checking voicemail messages at least once every 12 hours unless occupants have been provided with an alternate contact person and phone number for use during temporary absences.
Landlords must make tenants aware of their legal rights and responsibilities by providing each occupant with a copy of a notice to be prepared by the DPH or posting the notice next to the mailboxes or in another readily-visible location. The new code requires landlords to keep their buildings free from excess moisture or the appearance of mold. Landlords must ensure that all surfaces are dried within 48 hours after notice of leaks or flooding or within 48 hours after the end of the event, for example, a major rainstorm.
Windows and doors should be weather-tight, and all openable exterior windows, not just those on the first four floors of a building, should be equipped with screens during the period from April 1 through October 31. Landlords must inspect each apartment before turnover to identify the presence of pests, broadly defined to include all unwanted animal life. The obligation of a landlord to provide receptacles and arrange for the removal of garbage applies to all multi-unit structures. Tenants must abide by local regulations governing the separation of recyclable, yard waste, and bulk items like mattresses and large appliances. Landlords must eliminate potential injury hazards and conditions contributing to the accumulation of standing water on exterior areas. Finally, individual landlords will no longer be entitled to obtain variances shrinking the heating season even further.