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Rodents Fight Eviction

Thousands of long-term Back Bay residents will soon be looking for new homes when the City begins the reconstruction of 12 residential and commercial alleys. Although city officials have promised to minimize disruption to people, there are no plans to provide the large rodent population with temporary new housing. The rats who currently reside in these alleys have threatened to seek shelter in nearby homes. Back Bay residents should prepare themselves for the migration of rodents from the streets and dumpsters into their homes. Whether you're a tenant or a landlord, there are steps you can take to discourage these unwelcome pests from booking a reservation in your home this summer. Landlords have a duty under the State Sanitary Code to maintain their apartments in "rodent-proof" condition by repairing holes and cracks or other defects in the structure of the building. In addition, it's the unit owner's job to provide fitted screens on all windows and on all door openings to the outside. Expandable temporary screens are not satisfactory. Garbage left in the apartment, hallways, storage areas and alley ways are an invitation for rodents. When the party is over, food or garbage left out after a soiree should be disposed of and tied up in plastic bags. Tenants of each dwelling are responsible for proper disposal of their garbage at the owner's designated point of collection. At the same time, the owner of the building is responsible for providing as many garbage receptacles as necessary to contain the accumulation of garbage before collection. These receptacles should be convenient to the tenants and have tight covers to prevent access to rodents and limit garbage odor. Despite the best precautions, however, a rodent problem may still develop.

The City of Boston, as reflected in the State Sanitary Code, takes rodent problems very seriously. The Sanitary Code requires the owner of a building to exterminate all rodents within 5 days of notice by the tenant. Alternatively the tenant may wish to contact the Board of Health should the problem go unresolved. The Board of Health must inspect the premises within 24 hours after receipt of an inspection request. After an inspection and discovery of rodent infestation on the premises, the Board of Health must within 12 hours inform the owner who must in turn make a good faith effort to correct the problem within 24 hours.

A tenant would be wise to take advantage of the inspection option while keeping a detailed record of contact with the landlord. The practical purpose of inspection and documentation is to help the tenant establish damages. A tenant may collect damages for violation of the warranty of habitability or the warranty of quiet enjoyment, which award damages based upon the depreciation of the value of the unit from the rodent infestation. In addition, under Massachusetts General Laws 93A, the Consumer Protection Act, a tenant may collect damages for the infliction of emotional distress. This type of damage is based upon the issue of notice of the problem to the owner and his/her responses and attempts to correct the condition. Where an owner ignores the problem, the courts may award up to treble damages for willful nonfeasance.

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