Upcoming Massachusetts Appeal: Is a Violation of the Security Deposit Law a Defense Against Eviction?


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.