The Supreme Judicial Court will be hearing an appeal on a matter of great importance for Massachusetts landlord/tenant law: whether the failure to comply with the state’s security deposit law is a defense to an eviction (“summary process”). The case is Meikle v. Nurse (SJC-11859).
A security deposit is a sum of money (not to exceed one month’s rent) that a landlord is allowed to collect from a tenant for any damages that might occur in the rental property. Massachusetts has a incredibly detailed law about the procedures landlords must use to hold these deposits. A landlord’s failure to comply with some of these requirements can result in huge damages for tenants. For this reason, many landlord/tenant attorneys (myself included) recommend that landlords do not take security deposits: the risks just aren’t worth it.
There is no dispute that a tenant can raise a violation of the security deposit law as a claim (and seek monetary damages), but Meikle will determine whether such a violation can keep a landlord from evicting a tenant. The decision will require the Supreme Judicial Court to take a close look at the landlord/tenant laws.
Regardless of the Court’s decision, the security deposit law is a pro-tenant law that is an important source of leverage for tenants in negotiating eviction cases. Consequently, it is also a source of trouble for many landlords. Tenants and landords should consult an experienced attorney for help in navigating this tricky law.