What constitutes actionable retaliation by a landlord?

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What constitutes actionable retaliation by a landlord?

Before giving notice that I was leaving I reviewed landlord/tenant laws. Found out landlord had not complied with security deposit requirements (no written condition of premises, no interest paid on deposit, no separate bank account). Tried to work with him to settle issue (e.g. applying funds to last month’s rent). He wouldn’t go for it so I demanded security deposit back. He complied with great hostility. He threatens to sue after I leave for any damage and now wants 1/2 full oil tank when I leave. That’s not in lease. If he sues, can I claim retaliation even though I’ve moved out?

Asked on May 26, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Massachusetts

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

First, the law does not generally bar retaliation by a landlord, though it does for certain defined  reasons. It's not clear that those reasons would apply here.

If anyone sues you without a plausible reason for it, you may have a counterclaim available for improper use of process. The question is, is the suit plausible--which does not mean that  it has to be winning lawsuit, just that there is some basis for it. So if you did cause damage to the premise, your landlord may sue you for it. If you used fuel to which you are not entitled, a landlord may seek payment for it. You can present you own evidence in defense, of course.


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