Heard: May 1, 2017.
and Tenant, Security deposit, Multiple damages. Statute,
of a question of law to the Supreme Judicial Court by the
United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
N. Garick (David Pastor & Preston W. Leonard also
present) for the plaintiff.
M. White, of Illinois (Thomas H. Wintner also present) for
following submitted briefs for amici curiae:
Jeffrey J. Pokorak, Catherine Dowie, & John Pierce Wilton
for Accelerator-to-Practice Program of Suffolk University Law
School & others.
Lawrence J. Farber for Greater Boston Real Estate Board. Alex
Mitchell-Munevar & Joseph Michalakes for City Life/Vida
Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Hines, Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, &
Cypher, JJ. 
landlord's itemized list of deductions from a
tenant's security deposit does not comply with the
requirements of the Security Deposit Act, G. L. c. 186,
§ 15B (act), the landlord forfeits the right to retain
any part of that deposit. See G. L. c. 186, § 15B (6).
In certain circumstances the landlord must pay the tenant
treble damages, interest, costs, and attorney's fees,
pursuant to § 15B (7). In a certified question, the
United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit asks
whether a tenant is entitled to treble the amount of the
entire security deposit under § 15B (7) where a landlord
fails to provide to the tenant a statement of damages that
meets the statutory requirements, see § 15B (4) (iii),
second sentence, thereby forfeiting the entire security
deposit, see § 15B (6) (b), and also fails to return
that forfeited deposit within thirty days after the
termination of the tenancy. See Phillips v. Equity
Residential Mgt., L.L.C., 844 F.3d 1, 7-8 (1st Cir.
conclude that the Legislature did not intend for the treble
damages provision in § 15B (7) to apply to a
landlord's violation of the requirements for an itemized
list set out in § 15B (4) (iii), second sentence, or to
the amount forfeited for violation of § 15B (6) (b), and
accordingly answer the certified question no.
recite relevant facts presented by the Court of Appeals in
its opinion, see Phillips, 844 F.3d at 3-4, along
with other facts found by the District Court judge. See
Ferri v. Powell-Ferri, 476 Mass. 651, 652 (2017).
Phillips (tenant or Phillips) and a friend entered into
a written lease with Equity Residential Management, L.L.C.
(landlord or Equity), for an apartment in Waltham, for a term
of from July 20, 2012, to May 19, 2013. Phillips paid a
security deposit of $750 before moving into the apartment. He
moved out of the apartment on May 20, 2013, and requested the
return of his deposit. Equity responded with a statement of
deposit account (statement), which was signed but not sworn
to under pains and penalties of perjury, within thirty days
of termination of occupancy. The statement listed charges
totaling $968.08 and stated that Phillips owed a balance of
$218.02 after subtracting the security deposit and
accumulated interest. On June 23, 2013, Phillips's
father, a guarantor of the lease, notified Equity that the
statement did not comply with several requirements of the
August 6, 2013, Phillips filed a class action complaint in
the Superior Court, alleging that Equity had violated the act
insofar as (1) the statement and attached document were not
properly signed and sworn to under the pains and penalties of
perjury, (2) Equity did not provide sufficient documentation
to support the charges that were deducted from the deposit,
(3) Equity impermissibly deducted cleaning charges from the
deposit, and (4) Equity failed to return the deposit within
thirty days after the termination of the tenancy. He sought
recovery under § 15B (7), which provides, inter alia,
for treble damages for certain violations of the act. Equity
removed the case to the United States District Court for the
District of Massachusetts, see 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a),
citing diversity of citizenship under the Federal Class
Action Fairness Act of 2005. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d).
Equity also filed a counterclaim against Phillips for the
remaining balance listed on the statement: $218.02.
2015, the District Court ruled on both parties' motions
for summary judgment. The District Court found that
Equity's statement did not comply with the itemized
deduction provision in the act, see § 15B (4) (iii),
second sentence, and therefore Equity had forfeited its right
to retain any part of the deposit under § 15B (6) (b).
As a result, Phillips was entitled to recover his security
deposit. However, the District Court judge also ruled that
Phillips was not entitled to treble damages, as she concluded
that the Legislature had excluded violations of the itemized
deduction provision from the types of violations that
qualified for treble damages under § 15B (7). Finally,
the judge ruled that Equity was entitled to no more than
$102.42 for holdover rent,  because it had forfeited
its right to counterclaim for damage to the premises by
violating the act, see § 15B (6), and could not make
deductions for a late payment or earlier costs in an
unrelated proceeding under § 15B (4).
appealed from the ruling, arguing that the District Court
misinterpreted the act, and that he was entitled to recover
treble the amount of the entire security deposit under §
15B (7). Concluding that there was no controlling precedent
to decide the question, the Court of Appeals certified the
following question to this court, pursuant to S.J.C. Rule
1:03, as appearing in 382 Mass. 700 (1981):
"With respect to the Massachusetts Security Deposit Law,
[G. L. c.] 186, § 15B, when a lessor violates the
[itemized list requirements] of [§ 15B (4) (iii)], does
the lessor's corresponding violation of [§ 15B (6)
(b)], which 'forfeit[s] his right to retain any portion
of the security deposit for any reason, ' Id.
[at § 15B (6)], also constitute a violation of [§
15B (6) (e) ] -- 'fail[ing] to return to the tenant the
security deposit or balance thereof to which the tenant is
entitled . . . within thirty days after the termination of
the tenancy' -- thereby triggering the statute's
treble damages provision, [§ 15B (7)]?"
Phillips, 844 F.3d at 7-8.
act, G. L. c. 186, § 15B, protects tenants by providing
clear guidelines for landlords to follow with regard to
handling security deposits. See Hampshire Village
Assocs. v. District Court of Hampshire, 381
Mass. 148, 151-153, cert, denied, 449 U.S. 1062 (1980). In
passing the act, the Legislature recognized that tenants have
less bargaining power than landlords and are less able to
vindicate their rights in court. See Mellor v.
Berman, 390 Mass. 275, 282 (1983), quoting Goes v.
Feldman, 8 Mass.App.Ct. 84, 91 (1979) .
provides, inter alia, that a landlord must take care in
making deductions from a tenant's security deposit. The
deductions must fall into specifically authorized categories,
which the act limits to unpaid rent or water charges, certain
unpaid increases in real estate taxes, and repairs for
damages caused by the tenant; any remaining balance must be
returned to the tenant within thirty days of termination of
the tenancy. See G. L. c. 186, § 15B (4) (i), (ii),
(iii), first sentence.Taking improper deductions from a
tenant's security deposit leads to forfeiture of the
entire security deposit, pursuant to § 15B (6) (e)
. In addition, when making deductions
for damages, the landlord must provide the tenant with an
itemized list, sworn to under the pains and penalties of
perjury, as well as written evidence of the cost of repairs.
See G. L. c. 186, § 15B (4) (iii), second
sentence. Violations of this second
obligation, like violations of the first, also lead to
forfeiture of the entire security deposit, pursuant to §