Published on: July 26, 2016

A tenant could prevent her landlord from recovering possession of the leased premises in a summary process action by showing that he violated the security deposit statute, the Supreme Judicial Court has ruled.

Housing Court Judge (and former MEEB attorney) MaryLou Muirhead ruled that the tenant properly could assert a violation of the security deposit statute as a counterclaim for damages, but that a counterclaim on this basis is not a defense to the landlord’s claim for possession of the unit where the tenant had otherwise failed to pay rent.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed the Housing Court Decision, holding:

“We conclude that a violation of the security deposit statute is encompassed within the definition of ‘counterclaim or defense’ in G.L.c. 239, §8A, and that a counterclaim or defense on that basis may be asserted as a defense to a landlord’s possession in a summary process action under G.L.c. 239, §1A,” Justice Geraldine S. Hines wrote for a unanimous court. “Therefore, we reverse the Housing Court judgment granting possession to the landlord and remand for a hearing in accordance with the provisions of G.L.c. 239, §8A, fifth par.”

Now when a security deposit violation is alleged, the matter will be tried with the landlord’s possession claim.  If the tenant succeeds and the amount awarded exceeds the rent owed, the tenant gets to stay.  If it does not exceed the rent owed, the tenant gets a week to pay the difference.  In light of this decision, landlords should be even more careful in complying with their security deposit requests.

To read the Opinion on Meikle v. Nurse [click here].