FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE MEDIA CONTACT:
November 5, 2018
AG HEALEY ISSUES GUIDANCE FOR MERRIMACK VALLEY TENANTS AND LANDLORDS AFFECTED BY COLUMBIA GAS EXPLOSIONS
BOSTON – Attorney General Maura Healey issued guidance today outlining the rights and duties of tenants and landlords impacted by the Columbia Gas explosions in September that devastated the Merrimack Valley and have left thousands of residents without heat and hot water.
“Nearly two months after the Columbia Gas explosions, thousands of homes in the Merrimack Valley still have no heat or hot water,” said AG Healey. “My office is issuing this guidance to ensure that both tenants and landlords are able to make the appropriate claims from Columbia Gas and do not suffer financial losses.”
In addition to today’s guidance, the AG’s Office previously announced a new hotline and resources for Merrimack Valley residents, and demanded answers from Columbia Gas about the company’s plans for the expeditious restoration of gas and compensation for impacted residents.
The AG’s guidance is available for residents in English and Spanish. It encourages landlords and tenants to work together to resolve issues related to the gas explosions, including claims made with Columbia Gas. Tips outlined in the guidance include:
- State law requires heat and hot water. The State Sanitary Code requires landlords to provide a heating system in good working condition. The system must be able to heat homes to at least 68º F during the day and 64º F at night. Hot water in homes must be between 110º F and 130º F.
- State law allows tenants to withhold rent if they are without heat or hot water. Massachusetts law allows tenants to withhold payment of rent due to material violations of the State Sanitary Code. Even though these violations were caused by the gas explosions, tenants still have the right to withhold rent. Landlords can seek reimbursement for this lost rent from Columbia Gas.
- Tenants should notify their landlord in writing of problems before withholding rent. If tenants are without heat or hot water due to the Columbia Gas explosions, their landlord should be notified of the problem before tenants withhold rent.
- Request temporary alternative housing through Columbia Gas. Columbia Gas is making temporary housing available to residents affected by the disruption of gas service. Tenants can inquire about temporary housing by calling 1-800-590-5571.
- Tenants should file a claim with Columbia Gas for rent paid since the explosions. Tenants who have paid rent to their landlords while their home has been without heat or hot water should submit a claim to Columbia Gas for reimbursement. Landlords can also seek payment from Columbia Gas for lost rent.
- Tenants can withhold rent. They are not legally obligated to pay rent for a home that lacks heat or hot water, regardless of the cause of the underlying problems or whether the tenant remains in the home.
- The Attorney General’s Office views attempts to collect rent for a home affected by this disaster as a violation of state consumer protection law. Trying to collect rent or threatening eviction for nonpayment of rent on a unit that lacks heat or hot water due to the Columbia Gas explosions will be considered a violation of the state consumer protection act by the AG’s Office.
- Landlords should file a claim with Columbia Gas for lost rent. Landlords are not expected to take a financial loss due to this disaster. Landlords should file a claim for lost rent and any other property damage with Columbia Gas by calling 1-800-590-5571 or visiting the Columbia Gas website.
- Coordinate with Columbia Gas to ensure timely repairs and restoration of heat and hot water. Landlords will need to authorize any repairs made by Columbia Gas to their property. Landlords who fail to coordinate repairs and/or provide property access and delay the restoration of heat and hot water may not be able to recover lost rent from either Columbia Gas or their tenants.
Tenants or landlords who are having problems can call the AG’s Merrimack Valley Hotline at 617-573-5370 for additional assistance. Additional resources for Merrimack Valley residents can be found at www.mass.gov/ago/