Heard: November 5, 2015.
Summary process. Complaint filed in the Boston Division of the Housing Court Department on June 11, 2014. The case was heard by MaryLou Muirhead, J. The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court.
Louis Fisher (Patricia Whiting with him) for the defendant.
Garth Meikle, pro se.
Peter Vickery, for Worcester Property Owners Association, Inc., amicus curiae, submitted a brief.
Maureen McDonagh & Julia Devanthery, for City Life/Vida Urbana, amicus curiae, submitted a brief.
Present: Gants, C.J., Spina, Cordy, Botsford, Duffly, Lenk, & Hines, JJ.
In this appeal we decide whether a tenant may assert a violation of the security deposit statute, G. L. c. 186, § 15B, as a defense to a landlord's claim for possession in a summary process action brought under G. L. c. 239, § 1A. The issue arises from a Housing Court judge's disposition of a summary process action brought by Garth Meikle, the landlord, against Patricia Nurse, the tenant. After a trial, the judge 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. The tenant appealed, arguing that the plain language of G. L. c. 239, § 8A, buttressed by its legislative history, establishes that a violation of the security deposit statute may be asserted as a defense to a landlord's claim for possession and that the judge erred in rejecting this interpretation of the statute. We transferred the appeal to this court on our own motion.
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. 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.
We summarize the judge's findings of fact, which we accept unless they are clearly erroneous. Martin v. Simmons Props., LLC, 467 Mass. 1, 8 (2014). In October, 2011, Nurse moved into a residential building owned by Meikle. The parties executed a one-year lease under which Nurse paid a security deposit in the amount of $1, 300, equivalent to one month's rent. Meikle failed to give Nurse a receipt acknowledging acceptance of the deposit, failed to provide Nurse with a receipt indicating the bank account into which he deposited the funds, and failed to pay Nurse interest earned. On expiration of the lease, Nurse continued to live in the premises as a tenant at will until Meikle terminated the tenancy in April, 2014, to provide housing to members of his extended family. Meikle then instituted a no-fault summary process action for possession of the premises, G. L. c. 239, § 1, and for recovery of monies due for use and occupancy, G. L. c. 239, § 2, for the months of May, June, and July, 2014. Nurse counterclaimed,  alleging violations of G. L. c. 186, § 15B (security deposit statute), and G. L. c. 93A, in addition to improper termination, insufficient notice to quit, retaliation, and breach of the warranty of habitability.
After a two-day bench trial, the judge found for Meikle on all but the security deposit claim, ruling that his failure to provide Nurse with an acceptance receipt, a bank deposit receipt, and the interest earned from the security deposit violated G. L. c. 186, §§ 15B (2) (b),  (3) (a),  and (3) (b),  respectively. The judgment awarded possession and unpaid rent ($3, 900) to Meikle, to be offset by the amount due to Nurse on her security deposit counterclaim ($1, 304.61), ...