Slavin v. Rent Control Bd.

406 Mass. 458, 548 N.E.2d 1226 (1990)



The question, of whether a tenant's obligation, as specified in a residential lease, to obtain the written consent of a landlord before assigning the lease, or subletting, or permitting other occupants implies as a matter of law an obligation on the landlord's part to act reasonably in withholding consent, is one of public policy which, of course, the legislature is free to address. 


Plaintiff landlord Bessie Slavin sought to evict a tenant for violating an obligation of his tenancy. Defendant Rent Control Board found that the tenant had allowed another person to occupy his apartment without first obtaining Slavin's written consent. Nonetheless, the Rent Control Board refused to issue the eviction certificate, observing that Slavin had not acted reasonably in categorically refusing to allow the tenant to bring in someone new after his original co-tenant moved out. Slavin obtained judicial review, and the trial court annulled the Rent Control Board's decision and ordered the certificate's issuance. The appellate court affirmed, and finding the Rent Control Board lacked authority to make determinations of law, imposed double costs and counsel fees. The Rent Control Board appealed.


When a tenant obtains the landlord’s written consent before assigning the lease or subletting, is the landlord obligated to act reasonably in withholding consent?




On direct appellate review, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision annulling the Rent Control Board's decision and ordering the issuance of the certificate of eviction. The Court found that the imposition of an obligation for a landlord to act reasonably was a public policy matter for the legislature. However, the appellate court lacked authority to impose costs and fees on parties, such as the Rent Control Board, who had litigated in good faith. The Court ordered the Rent Control Board to issue a certificate of eviction because plaintiff landlord was not statutorily obligated to act reasonably in considering a tenant's request to assign or sublease. Nevertheless, the Rent Control Board did not have to pay double costs and attorney fees because its litigation was not frivolous. 

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