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Meeting the Housing code in Boston

All homes must meet the state sanitary code. Learn more about the regulations below.

The Massachusetts Sanitary Code is a list of rules and regulations for housing. The purpose is to protect the health and safety of tenants and the general public. All residential housing must meet these codes. You also need to adhere to certain landlord and tenant rights.

Habitable rooms

Each unit must have at least 150 square feet of total space for the one tenant. For each additional tenant, the unit needs another 100 square feet. Total living space includes all rooms except rooms with ceilings lower than five feet.

A unit needs at least one electrical fixture and an outlet, or two outlets. They must be ten feet apart in a useful location. All units must have smoke detectors as defined by state fire safety codes.


The room must get natural light from a window that's equal to at least 8 percent of the floor space. A unit also needs a window that can be opened to at least 4 percent of the floor space.

All buildings and units must have locks on the doors. Windows that open to the outside must have locks, too. Locks need to function in a way that they won't trap people in the building.

Doors and windows that open to the outside must have tight-fitting and self-closing screens. You can have screens that slide side to side. You don't need to have screens on windows above the fourth floor.


A tenant only has to pay utility bills if it says so in the lease and the utility ONLY serves their unit. If you’re a property owner and pay the utilities, you must keep the heat at a minimum of 68 degrees from 7 a.m. - 11 p.m. during heating season from September 15 - June 15. The heat can’t go below 64 degrees outside of those hours.

You don't have to have a heat source in every room as long as the overall temperature meets the heating requirements. You can’t remove or shut off a tenant’s utilities. You can only shut off their utilities if it's temporary because you need to make repairs or alterations.


Floors and walls must be smooth and nonabsorbent, and need to be easy to clean. Bathtubs must be watertight. Walls also need to be watertight up to 48 inches from the floor, and up to six feet in the shower. All bathrooms must have:

  • a toilet with a seat
  • a bathtub or shower
  • at least one light fixture
  • a door that can be closed, and
  • a sink that's not in a room used for sleeping, eating, or cooking. The kitchen sink is not acceptable. You can put the sink next to the bathroom if you can't fit it inside.

You must provide either a window that can be opened or a vent system. The window should represent 4 percent of the floor space. Ventilation systems must provide five air changes each hour. The system also needs to be easy to switch on and off.

Plumbing fixtures must be properly connected to water and sewer systems. The bathroom needs to have decent water pressure. Hot water must be within the range of 110-130 degrees.


Tenants must be able to get to the bathroom from within the building. They also need to be able to get to the bathroom without going through another unit.

Common areas

You must attach the house number to the outside of the building. It needs to be large enough that people can see it from the street.

You are responsible for plumbing, heating, and electrical equipment. If you don't live on the property, you have to post a sign with your contact information. It must be next to the mailboxes.


Each unit should have as many ways to exit as possible. You must keep all exits clean and in good condition. The tenant can only be responsible for snow removal if the exit only serves their unit. You must put this in the lease.

Main entry doors on buildings with more than four units must close and lock on their own. They also need to run on an electric striker system.


If you’re a property owner, you must give your tenants light bulbs for common area lights. You can put common area lights on a tenant’s meter if the building has three units or less. Your tenant needs to agree to this, and the control for the lights must be in their unit.

You have to install handrails on all stairways. All structures more than 30 inches off the ground must have a wall or guardrail that’s at least 36 inches tall. All structural elements need to be in good condition and fit to use. They must also be weather tight. Structural elements include walls, floors, ceilings, and stairs.


You must need to give your tenants trash barrels if your building has more than three units. You’re also responsible for moving them to the curb on trash day. Trash barrels should be durable and have tight-fitting lids. If there are less than three units in your building, the tenant can be responsible for trash barrels.

As a property owner, you need to make sure the land and property is clean and safe to use. Your tenants are responsible for keeping their units clean and sanitary.

The Housing Division oversees Title 5 inspections of sewer systems. If you're a property owner, you need to have your septic system inspected and checked regularly. Our department investigates complaints. File a report of a septic backup.

If there are two or more units in your building, you are responsible for paying for a pest extermination. An extermination includes:

  • sealing off entry points
  • getting rid of food and nesting sources, and
  • cleaning and disinfecting all affected areas.  


We can condemn any residential unit or building if it doesn't meet housing codes. We will condemn a property if:

  • there's no electricity, water, bathroom, or heat
  • the property poses a health or safety hazard to the public
  • the building is vacant and left open to trespassers and the elements, or
  • there is unsafe equipment on the property that is a risk to people or your home. This types of equipment includes boilers and heating equipmentelectrical wiring or devices, and flammable liquid containers.

A housing inspector may find a property unlivable if any of these conditions exist. We’ll let you know if we condemn your building, and the inspector will post a notice to vacate on the property. If this happens, you must:

  • let anyone living on the property know that they have to leave, and
  • secure all windows and doors that are accessible from the ground.

The inspector will let tenants know that they need to leave if they can't find the property owner. Once the property is vacant, we'll board it up and secure it. The property owner must pay for the costs to do this. If you don't pay the costs, we will place a lien on your property.

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