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Strategies for approaching lease disputes, negotiations

In Massachusetts, state law governs certain aspects of the landlord-tenant relationship. In fact, the website of the Attorney General of Massachusetts contains helpful information about tenancies established by written lease and those at-will. The information is helpful for prospective tenants, especially those who might not know that they have certain protected rights. 

For example, some terms in a rental agreement may be open to negotiation between the parties. When it comes to issues of payment arrangements, housing discrimination, eviction or habitable living conditions, however, there are legal parameters that must be observed.

As an attorney that focuses on real estate law knows, there can also be gray areas not addressed by the terms of a rental lease. One issue might be tenant improvements. Consider a recent story, involving tenants in a rent-stabilized apartment who paid for unit improvements to their kitchen counters, appliances and plumbing. The tenants claimed that their building superintendent implicitly approved of their project, even helping them at one point. 

Unfortunately, any unit remodeling could be deemed a lease violation if expressly prohibited by the contractual language. Normally, a statute of limitations would apply to a breach of contract claim brought by a landlord. However, the possibility of plumbing work might implicate municipal regulations or codes. In such event, there could be an exception or tolling of the limitations period. Even then, however, there might be a strategy available, such as obtaining a permit for the work that had been done.

As this story illustrates, it might be wise for any business or individual to consult with an attorney before signing a commercial or residential lease. If questions subsequently arise over the interpretation of lease terms, a lease negotiation lawyer might again prove to be a valuable resource. 

Source: The New York Times, “Renovating a Kitchen as a Renter,” Ronda Kaysen, July 19, 2014

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