What are the Massachusetts Heat Laws?

ModCon boiler system. CC-BY-SA Audetat.

Landlords must help the tenant maintain 64 to 68 °F from September 15 to June 15 under the MA 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 January 1, 2018 (see below on “Future Changes”).

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 heat sources that are not allowable. These are pressure-fed space heaters, parlor heaters, cabinet heaters, and room heaters that have a supply tank less than 42 inches from the center of the burner. They also exclude kerosene, range oil, number one fuel oil, and portable wick heaters.

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.

Other than that, there are no specifications for what is allowed. You can have steam heat, wood pellets, 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 June 15, inclusive. That means officially we have three months of spring, summer, and fall in Massachusetts. The rest is legally considered the dead of winter!

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, get spare electric space heaters and distribute these to affected tenants. You may need to buy them 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. 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.

Links

105 CMR 410: http://clickmeterlink.com/105cmr410
Proposed: http://clickmeterlink.com/105cmr410-2017changes

17 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

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