Shaevel, Krems, O'Connor & Jackowitz, LLP
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Posts tagged liability
Court Provides Clarification on Security Deposit Damages

In an October, 2017 decision by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, in the case of Scott Phillips v. Equity Residential Management, L.L.C., the Court provided clarification as to which violations will trigger treble damages under the Act.

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Labor and Employment Advisory: No Labor Relations Privilege in Massachusetts - For Now

On August 25, 2016, the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts declined to create a "labor relations privilege" for communications between employees and their union representatives.

On September 7, the District Court also rejected applying the Title VII standard for employer liability to state discrimination actions under M.G.L. 151B.

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Liability for Criminal Activity Clarified

Article by Kenneth Krems for New England Affordable Housing Management Association publication

As you sleep, this is your nightmare: illegal activity is occurring on your property. You know about it, but do nothing to stop it. Then, as a result of the criminal activity, a person is killed on the property. A jury renders a huge verdict against you.

Could this actually happen? It certainly could, and it did in the Sherman Griffiths case. In May 1997, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided the appeal of the Griffiths case, and in so doing clarified the scope of a landlord's liability for criminal acts on the property.

In the case, a Dorchester apartment was being used for drug dealing, but the landlord took no steps to evict the tenant or even to report the telltale activity to the police. The landlord ignored these obvious signs of criminal activity at the apartment: there was heavy foot traffic; the tenant had minimal furniture and did not heat the apartment; almost every time the landlord came to collect the rent, a different man would give it to him; and the tenant installed his own new door to the apartment with two peepholes, the lower one being large enough to pass small packages through.

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Apartment Windows: Look But Don't Fall

Article by Kenneth Krems for New England Assisted Housing Management Association publication

It happens every summer. You pick up the paper or turn on the news and learn that another child has been seriously injured or killed as a result of a fall from an upper story apartment window. Another tragedy that could have been prevented. Another potential major lawsuit against a landlord. 

In a mill town a small boy falls out a window into a neighboring canal. Only the heroic efforts of office workers on the other side of the canal prevented him from drowning. A small girl falls out an upper story window to the pavement below and killed. Do you worry that this could happen someday at your property?

Generally, if an owner or manager of an apartment building knows that a potentially dangerous situation exists, but does not take reasonable steps to make the premises safe, there can be liability for a future injury. A child falling from a window is such a potentially dangerous event. Because juries know that these types of injuries occur with some frequency, they are delivering large verdicts against landlords who have not taken adequate precautions to insure that these falls will not occur.

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Tenant Security: How Seriously Do You Take It?

Article by Kenneth Krems for New England Assisted Housing Management Association publication

With crime occurring all around housing developments, landlords today must be concerned with security issues. Providing safe and secure housing for tenants should be a top priority.

In 1994 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court stated that while residential landlords are not guarantors of the safety of their tenants, they do have a duty to protect tenants from foreseeable risks of harm from intruders. Moreover, landlords should be in compliance with the state sanitary code and building code with respect to security issues. Two cases decided at the trial court level in 1995 deal with these issues. In one, the landlord was held to have no liability; in the other, the landlord was found to be grossly negligent.

The first case was decided by the judge of the Hampden Housing Court. A tenant of a six-unit apartment building in Springfield was abducted form the building's parking lot one evening and assaulted. The tenant sued the landlord, claiming that the amount of lighting in the parking lot was insufficient to deter criminals.

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Non-Tenants and Illegal Activity: Are You Doing Enough?

Article by Kenneth Krems for New England Assisted Housing Management Association publication

Most landlords, once they have police reports or other sufficient evidence, act quickly to rid their communities of residents who are engaging in illegal activity in their apartments or in the common areas. But what about non-residents who are hanging out in the common hallways, courtyards or parking lots of a property and selling drugs, carrying guns, or just harassing residents? These individuals may be total strangers, but often are the adult children of residents who have gotten older and moved out. What obligations does a landlord have to rid its property of these non-residents and what steps can a landlord take?

In a recent case involving the New Bedford Housing Authority, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court shed some light on a landlord's obligations in such instances. Several residents had sued the Housing Authority, claiming that, while there had been some attempts to evict residents who were engaging in illegal activity, not much had been done about non-residents who were coming on the property and dealing drugs. A lower court had dismissed the residents' case prior to trial. The Supreme Judicial Court stated that under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 186, section 14, the "quiet enjoyment" statute, residents have a right to be protected against a serious interference with their tenancy and the character and value of the leased premises. If a landlord takes little or no action to remove individuals who are engaging in illegal activities in the common areas, and the result is that the residents are unable to use those areas as the landlord had originally promised, then the landlord is probably breaching the covenant of quiet enjoyment.

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