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Violation of Security Deposit Law Is A Defense to Eviction in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held in Garth Meikle v. Patricia Nurse, Security Deposit.jpgthat violation of the security deposit law by landlords is a complete defense to an eviction. 

The Massachusetts Security Deposit Law provides a three month penalty, including payment of the tenant's legal fees, against landlords who don't follow its strict requirements. One of the requirements of the Security Deposit Law is that annually the landlord must pay the tenant any accrued interest on the deposit.

That's what got landlord Garth Meikle in trouble with his tenant who was three months behind in rent. Meikle brought a no-fault eviction case in the Housing Court, but the tenant raised the counterclaim and defense that she did not receive interest on the security deposit. Ruling that the landlord's minor violation of the security deposit was not a complete defense to the eviction, the Housing Court allowed the eviction to proceed, ordering the tenant to pay the past due rent, but deducting the security deposit plus the $3.26 in unpaid interest.

However, the tenant, represented by Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, appealed her case all the way up to the Supreme Judicial Court.

The issue on appeal was the distinction between a counterclaim and a defense for a security deposit violation. Everyone agrees that the tenant can raise a security deposit violation as a counterclaim, entitling the tenant to up to triple damages, but the question was whether such a violation could be a complete defense to an eviction, preventing the landlord from regaining possession of the rental unit. 

Landlords argued that a security deposit is a separate financial matter between the landlord and tenant which has nothing to do about whether the tenant owes rent or the condition of the property.

The SJC disagreed and found that a security deposit violation was within the list of defenses to an eviction. The Court was persuaded that the Legislature's historical tightening of penalties and sanctions against landlords was indicative of the legislative intent to include a deposit violation among the list of available defenses to eviction.

Now Massachusetts tenants will have another powerful tool to avoid eviction in both no-fault and non-payment cases. 

Should you be faced with being evicted from your home, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar either through email or telephone 978-84-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation to learn of your rights.

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