Legal Memorandum: Hidden Defect Rule in MA

Issue: Under Massachusetts law, what the ‘hidden defect rule’ regarding defects on real property?

Area of Law: Real Estate Law
Keywords: Hidden defect rule; Defects on real property
Jurisdiction: Massachusetts
Cited Cases: 237 N.E.2d 3; 270 N.E.2d 789
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 03/01/2000

Under the former hidden defect rule, when a defect was involved, the landlord was held liable for a tenant’s injuries only if the landlord had knowledge of the defect and failed to disclose it to the tenant.  See, e.g., Charity v. Yates, 354 Mass. 275, 237 N.E.2d 3 (1968); see also Kraus v. Webber, 359 Mass. 565, 270 N.E.2d 789 (1971) (only actual knowledge of a hidden defect, coupled with the failure to warn the tenant, suffices to create liability for injuries caused by the defect); Langenthal v. Walters, 21 Mass. App. Dec. 63 (1960) (when landlord knows of a hidden defect, or is aware of facts from which he should realize the dangerous condition of the premises, the landlord must warn the tenant, and if he fails to do so he may be held liable for injuries arising from such failure). 

Massachusetts no longer strictly follows the hidden defect rule, however, and instead considers “whether the landlord, in the exercise of reasonable care, should have discovered the defect and repaired it within a reasonable time.”  Young v. Garwacki, 380 Mass. 162, 169 n.6, 402 N.E.2d 1045 (1980); see also Poirier v. Plymouth, 374 Mass. 206, 372 N.E.2d 212 (1978) (criticizing the former rule in a related context).


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