The Appeals Court issued an important decision this week about the Consumer Protection Law (commonly known as “Chapter 93A”, in reference to its location in the state law) and its potential application for landlords and tenants. The decision, Exhibit Source, Inc. v. Wells Avenue Business Center, is included below.
This decision concerns a dispute involving a commercial landlord-tenant relationship. Nonetheless, this case has important lessons in the context of Chapter 93A for landlords and tenants with residential tenancies.
Overview of Chapter 93A
Chapter 93A prohibits “unfair or deceptive” business practices. There are two main parts of this law: Section 9, for unfair or deceptive practices between consumers and businesses, and Section 11, for unfair or deceptive practices between businesses. While the concept of the law is generally the same for both sections, the requirements for each are slightly different. Here, I’ll be focusing on Section 9.
“Unfair or deceptive” business practices is purposely intended to be broad, and allows for a wide array of potential applications. Chapter 93A allows for monetary damages for violation of this law, and possible treble damages if the conduct was willful or knowing. The law, importantly, allows for attorney fees as well.
For a consumer to bring a Chapter 93A case, they must send the business a demand letter first and allow them thirty days to respond, before filing suit. This letter is not required if the consumer is bringing a Chapter 93A case as a counterclaim (a lawsuit filed in response to an existing lawsuit). A letter is also not required if the business does not have an office or assets in Massachusetts.
This demand letter is a critical requirement for a Chapter 93A case. Failure to comply with this requirement is often grounds for dismissal.
Chapter 93A for Landlords and Tenants
Exhibit Source, Inc. has several important lessons on how Chapter 93A applies to landlords and tenants.
First, Exhibit Source, Inc. is a good example of Chapter 93A’s breadth. Many acts, which might not otherwise be unlawful, can fall within the context of Chapter 93A, making it a powerful tool in pursuing a landlord-tenant dispute.
Second, Exhibit Source, Inc. discusses a central goal of this law: encouraging parties to settle their disputes without going to court. If a party fails to offer a reasonable settlement offer in response to a Chapter 93A claim, the court can (and most likely will) punish them for this.
For this reason, a landlord who receives a Chapter 93A demand letter needs to properly address it. Failure to do so can lead to much greater problems later on if the matter winds up in court.
If you need assistance with a Chapter 93A matter, contact me for a consultation.17P1611