The Commonwealth’s top court, the Supreme Judicial Court, gave landlords a bit of a break recently in Goreham v. Martins, 485 Mass. 54, (2020). The decision involves the “warranty of habitability” and the ways for tenants to recover for injuries sustained on their rented premises, including cases for people who slip and fall on snow and ice.
By way of background, an injured person has a claim “in tort”, that is, that someone’s negligence caused the injury. There are circumstances, however, when the remedy is contract or semi-contract based. For example, there is a “warranty of merchantability” attached to products. They have to be fit for the purpose intended. A table saw that does not have a guard, for example, can be found not to have met the warranty of merchantability, and resultant injuries can be compensable under a breach of warranty theory.
Similarly, the warranty of habitability assures that a rented property is fit for human occupation. If a ceiling falls on your head, you have a claim for breach of the warranty of habitability even though the landlord lacked notice of the hazard thereby making a negligence claim very difficult.