MAR Legal Hotline

Notes from the MAR Legal Hotline: May 2014

Q.     I have heard that Town Building Inspectors and Assessors have been making visits to homes listed for sale lately. Do homeowners have to let them into their homes?

A.  No. There is no statute or regulation in Massachusetts that allows for these municipal officials to enter a home without permission. Further, there is no state administrative procedure that requires an assessor or building inspector to be permitted to inspect the interior of a home, whether to evaluate the condition of the interior when valuing the property, or to look for a building code or building permit issue.  Additionally, homeowners have a constitutional right to refuse entry under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Q.      Are there any exceptions to this rule?

A.  Yes, if a homeowner seeking to challenge the assessed value of the property has applied for abatement. Massachusetts law requires the homeowner to comply with the assessor’s request to enter the home in order to be considered for abatement. Therefore, the homeowner may still refuse entry to the assessor, but that refusal will also provide a basis to deny the application for abatement.

Q:     What should I do if an assessor asks to enter the home during an open house, when my client is not present?

A:   As your seller’s agent, you should always follow the lawful instructions of your client. Therefore, you should not allow an assessor into your client’s home without permission, preferably in writing, to do so. The assessor should not enter a home without consent. Consent, however, may be given verbally, in writing, or it may be implied. For example, if a broker is in control of the property and allows the assessor into the home, it is likely that a court would rule that consent was given, even if the broker had never actually received permission from the homeowner.

Q:     My seller-client has stated that he does not want to allow the Fire Department into his home to conduct a smoke detector inspection. Does the same rationale apply?

A:  No. Massachusetts law specifically requires that sellers ensure that the home is properly equipped with appropriate smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. It also authorizes the fire department to ensure that residential properties are in compliance upon the sale or transfer of such structure.  Therefore, prior to the sale of the property, the fire department must be allowed to enter the premises for purposes of conducting a smoke detector inspection.

Q:    Several town officials accompanied representatives from the Fire Department during a smoke detector inspection. Must I also allow those representatives into the home, since they came in at the same time?

A: No. If you are present for a smoke detector inspection and are faced with the question of whether to allow entry to a municipal representative other than arepresentative from the fire department, you should consult with the sellers prior to granting consent.  The sellers are within their rights to limit entry to the fire department representative.  A REALTOR® should ask for verification of the person’s identity, affiliation with the fire department and, depending upon the seller’s instructions, may refuse entry.