Landlord Lock Out? Know Your Rights!

Renting an apartment often includes more than just the actual apartment. Each specific tenancy is different, but rentals generally include common areas like hallways, back yards, driveways, work out rooms, and more, as part of the rental agreement. In many cases, an amenity like off-street parking or a work out room may be an inducement for the tenant to rent that particular apartment from a landlord.

What happens when the landlord tries to lock you out of the entire apartment? The situation often arises where a landlord will try to exclude a tenant from all or even just part of the apartment. The reasons can vary from ignorance of the law to wanton vindictive and retaliatory lockouts.

The good news for Massachusetts tenants is that Attorney Mike Shivick has been doing this work for a decade. “The number one issue I see with tenant rights is that people really don’t know their rights,” said Shivick, a solo-practitioner. Here at Shivicklaw, understand that it is imperative to help educate Massachusetts residents about their rights under Massachusetts law.

A total lockout of the tenant by the landlord is illegal. See M.G.L. c. 186 s.15F, which states in relevant part: “If a tenant is removed from the premises or excluded therefrom by the landlord or his agent except pursuant to a valid court order, the tenant may recover possession or terminate the rental agreement and, in either case, recover three months’ rent or three times the damages sustained by him, and the cost of suit, including reasonable attorney’s fees.

But Attorney Shivick, what about just a little old partial eviction?

It is still unlawful as long as you did not consent to it or agree to it as part of some agreement you made or signed at court or otherwise. Take the case of Ianello v CMC, 400 Mass. 321 (1987), which stands for a couple of different legal propositions.

First, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the well-settled Massachusetts case law that a tenant cannot be locked out of a portion of the premises unilaterally by a landlord.

Second, the tenant is limited to actual and consequential damaged OR 4-months’ statutory damages if a landlord violated both M.G.L. c.186 s.14 and M.G.L. c. 186 s.18 by unilaterally locking a tenant out of a portion of the premises in retaliation for the tenant engaging in behavior protected by c.186 s.18.

In sum, your landlord cannot merely lock you out of the property without a court Order. If they do, start off by calling the police. Then contact your closest housing attorney to obtain an emergency court order in housing court to regain access. Then file a civil suit to recover actual and consequential damages or three-months’ rent, whichever is greater. See Homesavers Council of Greenfield Gardens, Inc. v. Sanchez for additional discussion about emotional distress damages recoverable under breach of warranty in Massachusetts.

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