What are the Massachusetts Heat Laws?

Massachusetts apartment heating laws are specified in the State Sanitary Code, officially 105 CMR 410 The Minimum Standards of Fitness for Human Habitation. This regulation has the force of law and governs all things apartment, including winter heating requirements. This article was current as of February 26, 2024.

ModCon boiler system. CC-BY-SA Audetat.

Where to Heat

In layman’s terms, Massachusetts landlords must provide heat for every habitable room and room with a toilet, shower, or bathtub. Let’s parse this.

Habitable rooms are defined as rooms intended for living, sleeping, cooking, or eating. Habitable rooms do not include rooms containing toilets, bathtubs, or showers, but these rooms must still be heated because they are listed specifically in the heating part of the code. Habitable rooms do not include laundries, foyers, communicating corridors, closets, or storage spaces. Since these rooms are not considered habitable and are not specifically listed in the heating part of the code, these kinds of rooms do not have to be heated.

Note that temperature measurements (see below) are taken on an interior wall, five feet above the floor, five feet from an exterior wall.

What to Heat With

The sanitary code specifies two groupings of heat sources that are disfavored.

The first group of disfavored heat sources are not allowable because they are considered unsafe at any time. These are pressure-fed space heaters, parlor heaters, cabinet heaters, portable wick heaters and room heaters that have a supply tank less than 42 inches from the center of the burner. The prohibited fuels are kerosene, range oil, and number one fuel oil. None of these may be used at any time.

In case you are not familiar with these heat sources, parlor heaters are banned because they are a very hot fire hazard. The various oils are banned because their intended application is internal combustion engines, not housing, and they are a carbon monoxide risk if used indoors.

The second group of disfavored heat sources are not adequate. They are not considered unsafe, nor do they count for compliance. This list came into effect in April 2023 and consists of fireplaces, wood stoves, pellet stoves, and portable electric space heaters.

Other than that, there are no specifications for what is allowed. You can have steam heat, natural gas, oil, geothermal, electric, coal, or anything else you invent, as far as the state sanitary code is concerned. (Note that if you wanted to go nuclear, you would have to get permission from the United States Department of Energy and/or Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Let us know if you try it.)

How Much Heat

In rooms requiring heat (see above), there are three temperatures to know. You must be at least 64 °F starting at 11:01pm and running through 6:59am. You must be at least 68 °F between 7am and 11pm inclusive. And you may never exceed 78 °F.

When to Heat

The Massachusetts heating season runs from September 15 through May 31, inclusive. That means officially we have three months of spring, summer, and fall in Massachusetts. The rest is legally considered the dead of winter! (Note: The heating season used to be through June 15 until a revision was promulgated April 2023. The revision reflects work done by MassLandlords in response to climate change.)

What if the tenant pays for heat?

Tenants can pay for heat if it’s written into a rental agreement. No verbal agreements allowed!

If the written agreement says the tenant needs to provide fuel, but the tenant doesn’t provide fuel, and the temperature falls below the requirements, the landlord is not responsible. But even without fuel, the equipment must be in working order.

What if the Heat Suddenly Breaks?

Heating systems preferentially choose to fail on New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, and the evening of your kid’s recital. They like the attention. If the heat breaks, you have an immediate violation of the state sanitary code. Rent might be withheld. You also have a risk of frozen pipes, hotel bills, and inspector fines. So there are real good reasons why you need to drop everything and investigate right away.

Sometimes you get lucky and the pilot light just went out. These can be relighted if you follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If the pilot won’t light, or if there are signs of a leak or explosion, call a licensed tradesperson immediately. It’s possible to get an older boiler or furnace repaired or replaced within 24 hours or before any serious heat is lost from the building. Keep calling plumbers until you find one who can be there right away.

If you haven’t yet invested in good communication with your tenants, now is the time. Text or call each tenant to let them know your plan. If the heating system has failed entirely, and if there will be several days’ delay in replacement, you may want to consider getting spare electric space heaters and distributing these to affected tenants. Anything with a hot exposed coil is a fire hazard in a rental; the oil filled ones are safer because the heating element is not accessible when used per instructions. You may need to buy space heaters or you may be able to ask your local message board to borrow some. Also place temporary heaters in the basement to delay or prevent frozen pipes. Offer to pay the electric bill in exchange for the tenant using the heaters or to discount the rent, because space heaters are not compliant for code purposes. Tell them you want to prevent frozen pipes.  Make sure your heaters are rated for your electrical system or vice versa. Do not use very old heaters, which may pose a fire hazard.

In the basement, if you have poor lighting, set up spot lights or other temporary lighting so that your plumber can work quickly and accurately. Expect a large bill.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Inspect your heating systems late in the summer. Know the age of your furnaces or boilers and have a savings goal to replace them preventatively at a time convenient for all concerned.

Future Changes to the Massachusetts Heating Laws

The MA Executive Office of Health and Human Services, Department of Public Health has proposed changes to the state sanitary code. They are considering outlawing wood because of its harmful contribution to global warming. They are also considering eliminating all types of space heaters, and making other changes to the Massachusetts apartment heat laws. Stay subscribed to our newsletter to learn if and when these changes to the Massachusetts heat laws take effect.

Stay in Compliance

Members can talk to experienced landlords about heating issues and more.


44 Responses to What are the Massachusetts Heat Laws?

    • Doug Quattrochi says:

      Hard for us to say, since we’re not familiar with your unit! Here is some generic advice: First, if you have control of your heating system, check that your thermostat or radiator valve etc. is working and set correctly. Second, if the thermostat appears to be working or if you don’t have control of your heating system, contact your landlord to get their help solving the problem. Third, if the landlord is not responsive after a time, contact your local town or city for “inspectional services” or “board of health”.

  1. Aria says:

    My landlord requires me to maintain the oil tank. I buy the oil, but is maintenance my responsibility?

    • Doug Quattrochi says:

      I am not an attorney, but as a landlord I would not require my renters to maintain the heating equipment. Under 105 CMR 410, it says “410.200: The owner shall provide and maintain in good operating condition the facilities for heating…” You might consider approaching the landlord in a friendly, non-confrontational way and let them know you feel unprepared to maintain the oil tank, and would appreciate his/her help with that.

  2. Leslie says:

    Our heat is turned off because of a carbon monoxide issue. They have replace the combustion chamber. We literally have no heat and have to use space heaters for at least another 2 days…. It MA Dec weather. Is there a reason the land lord should be compensating us?

  3. Leslie K says:

    My heat is turned off because there is an issue with the unit where its omitting carbon monoxide combustion byproduct. The system is probably broken and the smell was awful and coming into our apt. We were given a space heater, in addition to our own space heater. We have a 1200sq ft apt to heat. Is the landlord responsible to help pay for our electric bill? Also, it’s cold now, and without the heat on the room that’s outside with the heating unit and pipes won’t be heated, and the pipes may freeze. we then won’t have hot water as a result in addition to heat. What should we do?is the landlord responsible in any way to compensate us?

  4. Tania says:

    Hi, my unit has a heating furnace that only warms up the dinning room. We have 5 rooms but the dinning room is the warm place, while the 4eat of the house is cold. Is that ok or say legal.. to keep the rest of the house warm we have space heaters in every room.

  5. emily says:

    The heat/hot water in my building has been out more than on since the end of October. Every time I notify the landlord, they say they have a service call in, but now I am day 4 (my longest was 7 days in November) without heat or hot water. I’m moving out at the end of the month, but my building is SO COLD. Should I call the city inspection services on the landlord as they haven’t been consistent in their responsiveness or seem to actually be fixing the problem? This has been an on-going pattern where it is out for a few days, fixed a few days, and so on. I’m too cold to even pack my belonging to leave the building!

  6. David says:

    My daughter has a child age ( yrs. old. She rents an apartment. The heating system keeps breaking down and the landlord tells her to go down to the basement and he tells her how to fix it. It breaks down usually in two hours. In January of 2019, we had two weeks of chilling temperature averaging about 4 degrees. she called him and told him the heat had broken down. The next day he went to Florida leaving them with no heat. They were so cold they got sick. Would this be considered child endangerment on his part?

  7. Stephen Albano says:

    My oil burner is very old and the heat efficiency is poor. I spent over $3500 in oil last year. Can I ask the landlord to help out on the bill?

  8. Lynn S. says:

    My building does not have thermostats in the apartments but insists it needs to turn on the heat on 9/15 and off on 6/15 regardless of the outside or inside temperature. With 90+ degree weather and several elderly residents in my building we are all concerned of heat exhaustion or worse. Is there a way to force the landlord to install thermostats so we can gauge the internal temperature in each unit? There is currently a mini-war going on between tenants and the landlord. Fans and ice packs alone cannot fight heat exhaustion.

  9. Sarah Virgo says:

    I have 2 heating units that needs repair, no heat comes from either. We got a new landlord and in the transition process 1 of the heaters was in process to be repaired however it wasn’t fixed before the new landlord bought the building he told us we should of had the first heater fixed by the old landlord. Heater number 2 failed after the new landlord bought this building. As of 10-21-19 both units still are not up and running. Our landlord has made 2 appointments to have the heaters fixed however both were no shows and no calls. A third appointment was made that the landlord cancelled because the parts to fix the units were not received to the landlord as he told us they would be. We were given 1 space heater for the entire apartment. We called housing and they said the landlord is doing his best to get the parts. Housing told us to be flexible with the landlord. What are the consequences to the landlord? Is the landlord required to pay my electric bill? My landlord also sent us an email and his ending sentence was ” if your not happy please don’t hesitate to move”. Is that a threatening statement, that If the landlord raises the rent or asks us to vacate how do we prove it was malicious from our complaint? Is housing finding the landlord everyday there is no heat after September 15th? Can money be with held while there is no heat and not given back even once they do get the heat back?. Does housing let me know what they are doing to the landlord or is that information kept between the landlord and housing? How do I even know the landlord is being held accountable from housing? When I called my landlord regarding my heating issues the secretary hangs up on me. Should I give housing all my emails that shows my landlord lack of considering this as a priority to have on record in the event there is a rent increase or eviction from this complaint?
    Thank you,

  10. Amy Merchant says:

    I am in a 16 unit apartment building. 4 floors high. I’m on the to floor no heat gets to us. Stops on 3rd floor been going on 2yrs. What should I do

  11. Marc says:

    I am renting a office space, first floor only where I conduct my business and I believe that the land lord has been heating the basement off my electric panel. My electric bills are out of control and have been for 8 years. Am I responsible to heat an area that I don’t utilize? ie: the basement beneath my office space.

  12. Saji J says:

    Hi LLers,

    I understand Landlords must help the tenant maintain 64 to 68 °F from September 15 to June 15 under the MA heat laws. Of course, it’ll be to warm to have the heat on after June 15th. In this case, can a Landlord shut off the heating system from June 15th to September 15th? Thoughts?

  13. Adam Lamarche says:

    So come to find out the heating system wasnt properly hooked up in my home our entire lease. Half the system’s copper piping was capped off. Our entire lease I have been complaining that the home wont get past 60 degrees in the winter months. We also we promised an alternate heating source before we moved in that he never installed. Plumber came out and said the system has never worked properly and would never get up to the temperature window Massachusetts requires. Ontop of that the home is poorly insulated and there are 6 leaky drafty windows directly above baseboard heat he has known about for years without repairing or replacing. I have photos timestamped of thermostat. I have documentation from plumber. Can I take landlord to court for a habitable condition violation? None of the rooms get to 60 mid September thru mid June. Landlords knew about the issue and neglected. Licensed plumber he hired verified.

  14. Susanne Demetri says:

    I am a landlord and the theromastate is in the tenants apartment and I have told her to keep it on 67-68 especially if its cold and/or damp out. My apartment is always cold and radiators very very cold at times I can touch them and its almost like its off. She has been notified she need to relocate as the house is under agreement. I am only 1/3 owner and the other two owners want it sold and under the law I had to agree. I have been recently widowed and its very upsetting that I too must relocate after living here for 32 years. This tenant is under partial housing subsidy and its very agravating how she is freezing me in my own home. This is a reverse landlord complaining about a tenant. I have a lawyer on this but I would like more advise. As I type this my hands are so cold and im a senior citizen

  15. Barbara says:

    My tenant has not had heating oil since October and she is responsible for keeping it at least 1/4 tank full and maintain the heat on so that the pipes don’t freeze. Who is responsible for the damage if pipes freeze? I must fix it, but then it will freeze again with no oil heat. What should I do?

  16. Sasha Paige says:

    Hi I live in an apartment complex where they control the heat and a/c, despite my many complaints to fix the thermostat in my unit they “fix” it only for it to not work a few weeks later. And for most of the month of September my apartment sat between 82 and 85 degrees (waaaay too hot) the entire time. They have also failed to keep up with their end of the lease agreement in regards to working washers and dryers in the buildings as they have not worked properly for almost three years now (since I moved in there). And despite me moving my car when they asked me to to plow the snow they STILL towed it, several hours after they were supposed to have had the parking lot cleared an I was misinformed by a worker that it was safe for me to park their again because they already plowed the area…….basically my complex is a crap hole. Who and where do I go to file a FORMAL complaint with at this point and possibly a class action lawsuit? As I know several other tenants who have been screwed over by this place and are incredibly unhappy with the unreasonable, unlawful, and downright disrespectful behavior of the management company of this place.

  17. HP says:

    I would also like to know regarding the heat not exceeding 78º . Is this an option rule in Boston? Because our building managment only mentions providing heat till june 14th, but never that it shouldn’t exceed. With many of us staying at home, and our management building another building right next door, we are unable to even open our windows. They also only open half way. Construction is Monday-Saturday 7am-3 or 4 pm and includes some VERY loud tools that are migraine inducing, (jackhammers, nail guns, electric saws). Opening our windows just isn’t an option. Literally just doesn’t feel livable in the heat!
    Anything I can do?

  18. Christine says:

    No heating source in kitchen/dining room area and small living room but both average size bedrooms and bathroom have radiators, people from apartment building said to open gas oven as a way to warm up kitchen I’d rather not but what I need to know is this safe to do??

  19. T Goodman says:

    I use to work in Housing Advocacy.
    If you have issues with your heat call The Inspectional Services in your City or Town.

    Worst case scenario, go and get a new space heater and ask for reimbursement from the Management at your building. Use that space heater to get your house warm. There are some good inexpensive electric space heaters that will do that.

    Do not use a Used or Old Space Heater.
    That can be very dangerous!

  20. Patrice says:

    Our heat has been gone for a week now. Our landlord is working on repairs and has supplied us with space heaters. We know he is doing his best to remedy the situation, but as of now there is no time frame for when it will be done. Are space heaters considered an adequate long-term source of heating when their is no other source? If space heaters are our only source of heat for the rest of the winter, is our landlord fulfilling his legal obligations to supply heat?

  21. Kelli P says:

    I rent a studio apartment that is heated by an electrical wall-mounted heating unit. I pay for the heat. There is electric baseboard heating in the bathroom, that can be turned on separately (I pay for this as well). My landlord has asked me to keep the heat on in the bathroom when temps could cause the pipes to freeze (not stated in lease). Should I be liable for the heat, or should this be his responsibility?

    Also he plows the driveway, but when icy it is the tenant’s responsibility to treat walk way and driveway, (not stated in the lease) as well as shovel off deck areas. Is he within his rights to expect this as well?

  22. Kelly says:

    For the third time this winter I am without heat. My apartment has been around 40 degrees for the past 4 days. The property manager just says…we are working on it. Where do I find information about what my rights are other than the degrees my landlord is expected to keep the apartment (and aren’t)? I need to get to a hotel and also have a pet. Will I get reimbursed for my costs?

  23. beverly says:

    if you have legal aid where you’re located you should ask them for help. masslegalhelp.org is a good starting point if you’re in massachusetts

  24. Cheryl says:

    Please don’t leave your space heater unattended for long periods. The safest practice would be to warm the room before bed.

  25. Dan says:

    Is it legal to have one thermostat control three separate units in a building? How can one floor be freezing and another burning up be allowed? Is a zoned system a requirement for multiple unit buildings?

  26. ahang says:

    Please don’t leave your space heater unattended for long periods. The safest practice would be to warm the room before bed.

  27. Cassie says:

    On April 15th, 2023 out heat was abruptly shut off. Management stating a new residential heating law. I looked on Mass.Gov and saw nothing new. I live in a MA apt complex with 12 apartments in each building and there are 8 buildings. We have those with disabilities and those over 62 into their 70’s. Between April 15 and our rainy summer, there were many cool nights. I myself was very cold often. Management said this is the new law. Is it??? Now, we are told this new MA law stops the heat going back on until Oct 15th. What? It used to be Sept 15th. These apts come with heat = when they (corporate office) puts it back on. There are often cook nights in Oct. Tell me … where is this new residential law? I can’t find it! Please help. “For The Greater Good.”

  28. Bob says:

    I am a tenant who just found out that I’ve been paying for the third floor tenant’s gas usage for the 5 years. When I asked my landlord about it, he basically said that he pays the electric bill so that I’ll be able to pay the 2nd and 3rd floors gas bills. There are only 2 gas meters and 2 apartments listed for the property. My last months gas bill stated I used as many therms (146) for barely 700 Sq feet, as other people who heat triple the size homes.

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