Q: What are my rights as a tenant and/or landlord in reference to the Massachusetts State Sanitary Code (Housing Code)?
A: The Attorney General’s office released a comprehensive guide to tenants/landlord rights in 2007. The Attorney General’s Guide to Landlord/Tenant Rights is a guide addresses many laws, requirements, and obligations for both parties.
Q: Where can I access the Housing Code?
A: Cities and Towns in Massachusetts follow the State Sanitary Code, 105 CMR 410.00: Minimum Standards Fitness for Human Habitation. The City of Pittsfield conducts routine inspections throughout the city as well as following up on all complaints using these laws.
Q: Are landlords required to provide heat for residential property?
A: Landlords must provide a heating system for each apartment or one system that services all apartments in good working order. The landlord must pay for the fuel to provide heat, hot water, and electricity; unless the written rental agreement states that the tenant must pay for them.
Q: What temperature should landlords maintain on the rental property?
A: Landlords are required to supply heating and must keep it on from September 15 through June 15. Temperature must be maintained at 68 degrees during the day (7:00 AM-11:00 PM) and 64 degrees at night. If there is a problem with the heat, tenants should first contact the landlord to report the problem. If the problem persists, you many file a formal complaint with the Health Department. In case of an emergency or extreme weather conditions, please call 911.
Q: Can a utility company shut off my services?
A: Massachusetts law prevents utility companies from shutting off services to people in special situations. Each utility company in Massachusetts must follow the law and provide service to the following households to qualify for shutoff protection:
- Low income families with infants
- People with serious illnesses who cannot afford to pay their bills
- Tenants with landlords responsible for utility bills
- Low income people who would be without heat during the winter
If a landlord is responsible for paying the gas or electric bills but doesn’t pay them, a utility company cannot shut off the services for non-payment without giving a 30 day notice. Tenants have a right to take over the payments to prevent a shutoff and deduct it from their rent.
Q: What is a nuisance and what are my responsibilities as a home owner?
A: A nuisance is a violation in which the public health and safety may be compromised or the quality of life is being impacted or diminished upon. Examples of a nuisance include, but are not limited to:
- Tall grass over 10 inches high
- Garbage put out more than 24 hours prior to pick up
- Violations that constitute blight in a neighborhood
- Illegal dumping
- Not having a bulky waste sticker
- Accumulation of white good and/or other debris on properties
The City of Pittsfield has a comprehensive inspectional services program to eliminate all nuisances and if found, property owners may be cited and fined if not removed within 24 hours. If fines are not paid, fees can be attached to property taxes and a municipal lien can be placed on properties. It is the obligation of every property owner to prevent any nuisance from occurring and therefore should be prevented. To file a complaint of a nuisance, please contact the Health Department.
Q: What are bedbugs and what are my obligations of a landlord or tenant if found?
A: Bed bugs are small wingless insects that feed solely upon the blood of warm-blooded animals. Bed bugs and their relatives have evolved as nest parasites. Although a major nuisance, they are not known to carry and transfer diseases. For more information on bed bugs, please visit the Bed Bug Information Page provided by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. In accordance with State Sanitary Code, 105 CMR 410.550: Extermination of Insects, Rodents and Skunks, if bed bugs are present and there are two (2) units or more, the landlord is responsible for to removal of the bedbugs. If there are less than two (2) units, tenants are responsible for removing them.
Q: What can I do to avoid bed bugs?
A: To prevent bedbugs from occurring and reducing the potential of transferring from place to place, be sure to avoid obtaining used mattresses, inspecting used furniture prior to purchasing and get educated on the signs and symptoms of bedbugs. For more information on bed bugs, please visit the Bed Bug Information Page provided by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. If using a pest control company, be sure you obtain multiple quotes and confirm that the company is experienced in bed bug removal.
Q: What are the Health Department permitting requirements for food service and other temporary events such as residential kitchens and farmer’s markets?
A: The Health Department requires various permits to operate in the City. If a Pittsfield business has a current license to operate a restaurant, they do not need additional permits for special events. For out of town vendors, you will need a copy of your current town’s Board of Health license, a copy of your Food Protection Manager’s Certificate and a completed application with applicable fee. For Farmer’s Markets, if you are only selling fresh produce, you are exempt from permitting requirements, but if you intend to sell pies, frozen meats, canned jams, and other products, you may need a retail food permit. Please call the Health Department to confirm in what is required. For residential kitchens, you may only prepare and serve non-potentially hazardous food such as baked goods, pies and cakes that are non-custard and other limited items. Please contact the Health Department for permitting requirements.
Q: Are food service workers required to wear gloves?
A: In accordance with State Sanitary Code, 105 CMR 590.00: Minimum Sanitation Standards for Food Establishments, food services workers are required to wear non-latex gloves when handling ready to eat food products. Ready to eat foods include food that is edible without washing, cooking, or additional preparation such as raw fruits, vegetables, salads, buns, and desserts.
Q: How often does the Health Department inspect restaurants?
A: The Health Department inspects all food service and retail food facilities three times a year as well an inspecting upon receiving complaints. All inspection reports are public record and may be viewed upon request. Please call the Health Department at (413) 499-9411 to schedule an appointment with an Inspector to view food inspection results.
Q: What is a food borne illness and what can I do if I am diagnosed with one?
A: Foodborne illnesses are caused by eating food or drinking beverages contaminated with bacteria, parasites, or viruses. Harmful chemicals can also cause foodborne illnesses if they have contaminated food during harvesting or processing. Foodborne illnesses can cause symptoms that range from an upset stomach to more serious symptoms, including diarrhea, fever, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and dehydration. Most foodborne infections are undiagnosed and unreported, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that every year about 76 million people in the United States become ill from pathogens, or disease-causing substances, in food. Of these people, about 5,000 die. If diagnosed with a foodborne illness, the Pittsfield Board of Health will conduct an investigation to determine the cause and to prevent further spread.
Q: What is the bacteriological laboratory program?
A: In 2009, the Health Department created and implemented a new laboratory program in which there are now capabilities to assess environmental and sanitary conditions at public beaches, semi-public pools, and ice in restaurants. All public and semi-public beaches and pools are required under the State Sanitary Code to be tested weekly and monthly (respectively) to ensure there are no environmental and health risks in the community. The Department also implemented a voluntary ice sampling program to assess and monitor sanitary conditions in restaurants to ensure that ice used for consumption is free from bacteria. There is a nominal fee for sampling and the benefits of enrolling into the program include:
1) confirmation that your ice meets drinking water standards and is free from contaminants,
2) unlimited consultation to assist restaurant staff in reducing the potential for contamination, and
3) inclusion in a master list of facilities enrolled available to the public and routinely published informing the community
the businesses that are committed to meeting high standards.
For more information on the program, please contact the Health Department at (413) 499-9411.
Q: What is the Tobacco Smoke-Free Workplace Law and are there any other regulations regarding smoking?
A: In 2004, Massachusetts passed the Smoke-Free Workplace Law eliminating smoking in all public places, municipal vehicles, and all other enclosed spaces and has setback distances to eliminate second hand smoke from migrating into buildings. The Pittsfield Board of Heath promulgated more stringent regulations in 2007 enforcing a ten (10) foot setback rule from public building and does not allow an exemption for smoking in private clubs. All public buildings in the City are now smoke-free. If you witness a violation or would like to file a complaint, please notify the Health Department. The Pittsfield Board of Health also requires all retail clerks that sell tobacco products to first be certified through a training program. All new employees have thirty (30) days from the date of hire to be certified. For more information of the Retail Clerk Certification, please contact Tri-Town Health Department at (413) 243-5540 or the Pittsfield Health Department at (413) 499-9411.
Q: Where can I obtain a seasonal influenza shot and what can I do to avoid obtaining the flu?
A: Seasonal flu shot are usually offered from September through February of each season and there are many outlets in which you can obtain the vaccine. Primary care providers, Visiting Nurse Associations, various clinics, and pharmacies also provide them as well. Please check with the vendor of the requirements of obtaining the vaccine and the costs associated. Getting the seasonal flu shot, proper hand washing, cough/sneeze into the elbow and staying at home when you are sick will reduce the potential from contracting the flu. If using sanitizer, be sure the alcohol content is above 60%. For more information regarding the influenza and H1N1 please visit the Seasonal Influenza Page of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website or the Influenza Page of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Q: Where can I find information regarding a communicable disease and other useful information?
A: The Massachusetts Department of Public Health and local Boards of Health are required by law to investigate, report, and prevent communicable diseases and further spread in the community.
Q: What is a Board of Health and how often do they meet?
A: The Board of Health is a five (5) member board appointed by the Mayor and is responsible for establishing policies and procedures to protect public health under the authority of Massachusetts General Law Chapter 111, section 31. Each member has a three year appointment that is staggered. The Board of Health meets on the 1st Wednesday of each month at 6:00 PM in the Pittsfield City Hall.
Q: Who should I contact for questions regarding public health?
A: The Health Department hours of operation are 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM, Monday through Friday. The Department can be contacted by telephone at (413) 499-9411 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org to ask questions, request an inspection, or file a complaint.
You may also refer to the websites below for more information: