Landlord & Tenant Resources
Most tenant protection is federal from the Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 as amended. This law makes it illegal for a landlord to discriminate in the sale or rental, of dwellings, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (which covers children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians, pregnant women, and people with custody of children under the age of 18), and those with a disability.
Under laws of the Commonwealth, it is also unlawful to refuse rental of any apartment because of dependence upon public or rental assistance. Except in owner-occupied 2-family dwellings, the Massachusetts Fair Housing Law also prohibits discrimination against any person because of religion, national origin, age, ancestry, military background or service, sex, marital status, blindness, deafness, or the need for a guide dog
If you feed that you’ve been the victim of discrimination, contact the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination at (617) 994-6000.
A Tenant-with-a-Lease is one who signs a contract to rent a particular apartment for a specified time period. A lease or rental agreement is a written document which legally binds both parties. The tenant is obligated to pay a stated rent at a given interval, usually monthly, in return for a safe and habitable apartment.
A Tenant-at-Will is one who occupies a rented unit without a lease but pays rent periodically, usually monthly. The agreement for the Tenancy-at-Will may be either written or verbal.
A Rooming or Boarding House Tenancy is different from the two other types of tenancies. After three months of tenancy, the rooming house tenant is considered a tenant-at-will and afforded all rights of a tenant-at-will.
Types of Tenancy Agreements:
Verbal Rental Agreements: You and the landlord may agree verbally to the terms of your tenancy. However, it is safer to get all terms in writing. Verbal agreements are binding but notoriously difficult to enforce.
Written Rental Agreements: Tenants should always read all leases or rental agreements before signing, leaving no blank lines. If wording is unclear, ask for an explanation. According 940 Commonwealth of Massachusetts Regulations 3.17(3b) a landlord must include the following in a written rental agreement:
* The names, addresses and telephone numbers of the owners and any other persons who are responsible for the care, maintenance and repair of the property;
* The name, address and telephone number of the person authorized to receive notices of violations of law and to accept notice of lawsuit on behalf of the owner;
* The amount of the security deposit and disclosure of rights under the Security Deposit Law.
Lease: A lease is a contract to rent for a specified length of time. The lease should clarify the rights and responsibilities of both the tenant and the landlord. Within 30 days after the lease is signed, the landlord is required to furnish a tenant with a copy. If the landlord does not provide a copy within the allotted 30 days, s/he can be fined up to $300. Any provision which conflicts with the law or requires a tenant to waive rights is void and unenforceable (M.G.L., c. 186, sec. 15B).
Types of Leases: A standard fixed-term lease typically runs for a 12- month period and may or may not be renewed after the period expires. A self-extending lease is one which automatically renews itself if neither the landlord nor the tenant gives formal notice that there will be no renewal by the date specified in the lease.
The lease should describe all rental terms, conditions and charges. During the lease term, the landlord cannot add a charge for the use of facilities that were available at no cost when the lease was signed. Into the lease write all verbal promises, additional clauses or clarifications made by either party. Changes should be initialed by both the landlord and the tenant.
Prior to signing a rental agreement a tenant should inspect the unit to make sure that everything is in working condition. Ensure that any damages or defects are listed in the agreement. Note any repairs that the building manager or landlord agrees to fix.
A tenant should not put any money down unless s/he is sure s/he wants the apartment. Be sure to calculate the anticipated cost of utilities. Assess the accessibility of the apartment manager or landlord for after hours repairs. Tenants should check with neighbors about the landlord’s competence and reputation.
Unless specified otherwise in a lease, rent for a tenant with a lease can be increased only when the lease term expires. Rent for a tenant-at-will can be raised only when both parties agree to the increase. However, if a tenant does not agree to a rent increase, the landlord can have the tenant evicted. If the landlord wants to raise rent, s/he must send the tenant proper legal notice terminating the current tenancy. This notice may contain an offer to remain in the apartment for the increased rent. The tenant must receive this notice at least one full rental period, but not less than 30 days, before it becomes effective. Since there is no longer any rent control in Massachusetts, the rental increase may be any amount the landlord wishes to charge. The landlord may increase the rent as often as s/he wants as long as a legal procedure is followed.
Termination of Tenancy
Either the landlord or tenant may terminate a tenancy-at-will by giving written notice 30 days or one full rental period in advance, whichever is longer. No reason is required to terminate. If rent is paid the first of each month, notice should be given prior to the first day of the month. However, either the landlord or the tenant may be able to give notice as late as the first day of the month itself. To establish legal proof of notification, the party seeking termination should send the notice by certified mail, return receipt requested. In a boarding house termination notices vary depending on the length of tenancy: If the tenancy is less than 30 days, no notice is required, for 30-90 days 7 days notice. For more than three months 30 days notice must be given. At that point a rooming house tenant is considered a tenant-at-will and is afforded those protections.
If the tenant pays weekly or is disorderly or bothersome to other tenants only a week’s notice is mandated to terminate tenancy.
A landlord may terminate a tenancy of a lease by initiating a legal eviction for the reasons listed below. A tenant who breaks a lease or rental agreement could be subject to paying the balance of the money due under terms of the contract.
In Massachusetts only a broker or licensed agent may charge a referral fee. A landlord or apartment manager may charge for the following:
* the first month's rent
* the last month's rent
* one month's security deposit
* purchase and installation cost for a lock and key
A security deposit and the last month's rent are not the same thing. Last month's rent is the pre-payment to the landlord for the last month of tenancy. A security deposit is a deposit of money to the landlord to ensure that rent will be paid and that the tenant’s other responsibilities are met such as not damaging the unit past fair wear and tear. The amount of the last month's rent and of the security deposit each cannot be greater than one month's rent. If the landlord later raises the rent, s/he can require a tenant to increase both the amount of the last month's rent and the amount of the security deposit to equal the new rent. A landlord cannot transfer one for the use of the other without the tenant's consent nor can the tenant use the security deposit as the last month's rent.
Upon receiving a last month's rent and/or a security deposit, the landlord must give a tenant a receipt specifying:
· the amount
· the date on which it was received
· its intended use
· the name of the person receiving it
· if an agent or apartment manager is involved, the name of the landlord for whom the rent is collected
· the signature of the landlord or agent.
If last month's rent is collected, the landlord must also provide the tenant with a statement indicating that s/he is entitled to either 5% interest or the actual interest earned at the bank where the deposit has been made, a statement indicating that the tenant should provide the landlord at the termination of tenancy with a forwarding address where interest can be sent, and a detailed description of the rented apartment.
If a landlord or apartment manager takes a security deposit, s/he must give a tenant a signed, separate written statement of the present condition of the premises upon receipt of the deposit or within 10 days after tenancy begins, whichever is later. The statement must contain a comprehensive list of existing damage including any certified violations of the sanitary or building codes. If the tenant does not agree, s/he must respond within 15 days otherwise, the assumption is made that the list is correct. This list is the basis for determining whether all or part of the security deposit is to be refunded.
Massachusetts landlords are required by law to pay interest on both the last month’s rent and the security deposit on the anniversary date of the tenancy. On each anniversary the landlord must send the tenant notice of the amount of interest accrued and either the interest itself or notice that the rent may be deducted from the next rent payment. If no such notice is forthcoming, the tenant may deduct the interest from the rent (no more than 5%). Interest on the last month rent accrues from the start of tenancy and may be pro rated in the event of a move out less than a complete year. Interest on the security deposit is only for those who have lived in their apartments for a year or more.
Landlords must hold security deposits in a Massachusetts bank and must provide a tenant (within 30 days after receipt of the security deposit) a receipt identifying the bank's name and address, the account number, and the amount of the deposit. If the landlord fails to comply, a tenant is entitled to immediate return of the security deposit.
If the apartment building is sold, the security deposit last month’s rent and accrued interest must be transferred to the new owner.
At the termination of tenancy, the existing owner must return the security deposit within 30 days after the termination of tenancy deducting only for any unpaid rent which has not been withheld validly such as for repairs, any unpaid increase in real estate taxes which the tenant was obligated to pay under an escalator clause, as well as any damage past reasonable wear and tear caused by the tenant. Any deductions and repairs must be noted along with supporting evidence such as receipts.
Under Massachusetts law rental living spaces that have to adhere to 105 Code of Massachusetts Regulations 410.000: State Sanitary Code Chapter II: Minimum Standards of Fitness for Human Habitation. Repairs must be made to substantial defects that violate these provisions. Every municipality in Greater Boston has its own local building and health codes, but these minimum legal occupancy requirements for the state are the threshold that must be met for habitability.
· Every Boston apartment must have suitable space to store, prepare and serve foods in a sanitary manner including a sink, stove and oven in good repair, with the space and facilities needed to install a refrigerator. The kitchen surfaces should be smooth and impervious.
· Every unit should have a bathroom with a working toilet in a room not used for living sleeping or cooking. A wash basin and shower should be in the room or in close proximity. The kitchen sink may not double as the bathroom sink. Showers and toilets should be behind doors that can be closed for privacy. There should be one bathroom for eight tenants. Bathrooms must have a working window or mechanical ventilation.
· Potable water must be made available of sufficient quality and pressure to meet a tenant’s ordinary needs. Hot water between 110°- 130°F must be provided.
· Each room must have heat capable of raising the temperature to 68°F between 7:00 A.M. and 11:00 P.M. and at least 64°F between 11:01 P.M. and 6:59 A.M. Portable space heaters can’t be used to meet this requirement. Heat can’t exceed 78°F in heating season.
· Each kitchen greater than 70 sq ft and all other rooms must have windows that admit light from the outside.
· Rooms must have at least one working electrical outlet and one light fixture, or two outlets. Switches and fixtures must be in good working order. Bulbs or tubes in working fixtures must illuminate common areas like laundries and stairways.
· Each dwelling must be connected to the sewerage system, unless it’s not practical. In these cases the landlord must comply with 310 CMR 15.00: Subsurface Disposal of Sanitary Sewage.
· Any owner installed appliances like washing machines or dryers must work properly and adhere to plumbing and electrical wiring standards.
· The owner must supply all gas and electricity used in the unit, unless it is metered separately. The piping must be maintained by the owner. If the tenant is to be billed for water use, it must be by a sub-metering device that measures only the amount used for that unit.
· Every dwelling unit shall contain at least 150 square feet of floor space for its first occupant, and at least 100 square feet of floor space for each additional resident. Rooms can’t be less than seven feet tall in 75% of the unit’s space.
· Unobstructed safe exits must be provided. Every unit must be capable of being locked to prevent unlawful entry. Every exterior window must have a locking mechanism.
· Owners have to provide operable smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms in every dwelling.
· Dwellings of ten units or more must have auxiliary lighting and two means of egress.
· Windows must be weather tight. Screens must be provided for all windows that open on the first four floors.
· Units must be kept free of “rodents, skunks, cockroaches and insect infestation.” Garbage must be stored in watertight tight-fitting containers. They have to be sufficient and convenient to the tenants. Owners are responsible for arranging garbage collection.
· Common areas and the land around a building must be maintained in a clear and sanitary condition. Guardrails have to be secure.
· Lead based paint is not allowed.
· Walkways in multi family dwellings must be kept free of obstruction caused by snow.
· The landlord cannot cause the removal or shutoff of utilities except for a temporary period during repair or emergencies. In cases when utilities are included in the rent and a landlord's account is about to be shut off for non-payment, state law (M.G.L., c. 164, sec. 124D) and Department of Public Utilities regulations require utility companies to notify each affected tenant in writing at least 30 days prior to the scheduled termination. Tenants may also be asked to pay part of the overdue bill to the utility and deduct that payment from their rent. Tenants should contact the Department of Public Utilities at (617) 727-3531 or (800)392-6066 for more information.
Tenants are required by law to take reasonable care of their rental units, common areas and hallways, maintaining them in a clean, sanitary and undamaged condition. Tenants are responsible for repairing any damage and abuse caused by them or family, guests and pets. Tenants are responsible to give landlords notice of needed repairs, like a leaky roof, that have the potential of further damaging the landlord’s property.
Upkeep and Repairs
A landlord must make the repairs and upkeep her property to the standards listed above to meet the basic standards of habitability.
Under Massachusetts law, failure to meet these minimum provisions could result in an inspection from the board of health and an order of compliance. If conditions are not improved, a landlord can be ordered to a hearing and fine with each day considered a separate violation costing “not less than ten nor more than $500.00.”
If an entire building is deemed unfit for habitation, and no remediation has occurred after a year, tenants can be ordered to vacate the building. Then it can be demolished.
This guide is not meant to be comprehensive. Every municipality in Greater Boston has its own local building and health codes, but these minimum legal occupancy requirements for the state are the threshold that must be met for habitability.
Withholding Rent for Repairs
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that when a landlord fails to maintain a dwelling in a habitable condition, a tenant may properly withhold a portion of the rent from the date the landlord has received notice of this breach of the warranty of habitability. (M.G.L., c. 239, 8A).
Withholding rent is a serious step. A tenant should first notify her landlord that a problem exists. Then she should file a complaint with the local board of health to have an inspection.
To withhold rent a tenant must be paid up in rent until the landlord is made aware of the breach of habitability. Then the tenant should write the landlord explaining the intention to hold up rent. All evidence should be mustered and thoroughly documented because a tenant should expect that in response to non-payment of rent a landlord will initiate an eviction.
A tenant can also resort to repair and deduct to make repairs to an apartment or common areas. Up to four months future rent can be deducted to pay for repairs if three conditions are met (M.G.L.,c. 111, s.127L):
· The local board of health or other code enforcement agency has certified that the apartment has severe health violations that qualify for repair and deduct.
· The landlord receives written notice of the existing violations from the inspecting agency.
· The landlord is allowed five days from the date of notice to begin repairs him/herself or to contract for outside services and 14 days to substantially complete all necessary repairs. (A landlord may have less than 14 days to complete the repairs if ordered to move more quickly by the court or the local code enforcement agency. )
If the tenant qualifies under terms of repair and deduct, the tenant has the option of treating the lease or rental agreement as broken, and may move rather than undertake the necessary repairs. However, the tenant must pay the fair rent value for the defective apartment for the period s/he occupied the unit, vacating it within a reasonable period of time.
There is no state requirement for renters insurance in Massachusetts. Policies sold in the state provide two basic kinds of coverage, personal property and liability. Personal property coverage pays to repair or replace personal belongings if they are damaged, or stolen.
Liability insurance provides coverage against a claim or lawsuit resulting from bodily injury or property damage to others caused by an accident while in the tenant’s apartment or damage caused by personal property like a leaky waterbed.
In Massachusetts a landlord has no obligation to anybody with pets except for seeing eye guide dogs. Tenants are responsible for any damage caused by pets
Right of Entry
A landlord or apartment manager may enter a tenant's apartment under a right of entry clause for the following reasons:
· To inspect the premises
· To make repairs
· To show the apartment to a prospective tenant, purchaser, mortgage lender or its agents
· In accordance with a court order
· If the premises appear to have been abandoned · To inspect the premises within the last 30 days of the tenancy or to determine the amount of damage to be deducted from the security deposit once a notice to terminate has been given.
The landlord should be reasonable in trying to find a mutually convenient time with the tenant to visit the apartment. If the landlord persists in entering a tenant’s apartment without permission, that is considered trespass and a tenant can request a restraining order from a local district court.
A tenant-with-a-lease may be evicted for non payment of rent, violating the terms of a lease, or causing excessive damage. A landlord must first send a Notice to Quit. For non-payment of rent it’s a 14 day notice. For other-cause eviction, it’s typically a 7-day notice. A tenant-at-will is not entitled to any reason for termination of tenancy.
A tenant does not have to move upon receipt of the notice. A judge is the only person who can order an eviction. If this is the first time in a 12-month period that a tenant is facing eviction for non-payment of rent, s/he may avoid eviction by paying up any rent owed within ten days of receipt of the notice. The tenant’s right to cure the deficiency must appear on the Notice to Quit, otherwise the tenant has until the date of the answer to pay up.
Landlords of public housing must go through the local housing authority to initiate eviction.
After the notice period, the landlord serves the tenant a Summary Process and Complaint which informs the tenant of the date of the eviction hearing and the date on which the Answer must be filed.
The Answer is a written response from the tenant stating why s/he should not be evicted. The answer gives the tenant the chance to make a counter claim such as a health code violation. It must be received by both the court and the landlord by the Monday before the court date.
The judgment is entered with the clerk of the court on the Friday after the trial. If the tenant loses the case, s/he may appeal the decision and request a new hearing. If the tenant chooses to appeal, s/he must file a Notice of Appeal within 10 days after the date the judgment is entered. The tenant must pay an appeal bond which may be waived for the indigent.
The execution is the judge's order to evict. It’s given ten days after the judgment is entered. A landlord cannot evict a tenant without this paper. The execution may be served by a constable or sent by registered mail. At least 48 hours before the execution is to be served, the tenant must be given written notice of the date and time if the place is not already vacated, when the tenant and his possessions will be physically removed from the apartment. The execution is good for three months. This means that if the landlord chooses to allow the tenant to stay in the apartment s/he can later use the execution at any time within the three month period. However, if within the three months the landlord accepts payment of the amount won in the summary process action and current rent, the execution may not be used and has to be returned to the court.
A landlord cannot lock out a tenant without a judge’s order.
In the case of a tenant whose damages from counterclaims are less than the amount owed to the landlord the tenant has 7 days to pay the balance, with interest and court costs, and thus avoid eviction (M.G.L., c. 239, s. 8A)
If the eviction was not due to the tenant’s fault and if the tenant cannot find a new apartment, s/he may ask the judge for a stay of execution of up to six months, or if s/he is elderly or handicapped, up to one year.
Settlement of Disputes
For help in settling disputes, contact the following offices
For the program in your area call:
Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline
Housing Consumer Education Center:
To Obtain Legal Assistance:
Massachusetts Bar Association Lawyer Referral Program
(617) 654-0400; Toll Free in MA: (800) 392-6164
Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination
Licensing of Real Estate Brokers/Salespersons:
Division of Registration
Information: Real Estate Board (617) 727-2373
Complaints: Office of Investigations (617) 727-7406
Lead Paint Removal:
Department of Public Health
Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program
(617) 624-5757; Toll Free: (800) 532-9571