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Massachusetts Landlord-Tenant Law

You could be a landlord in Boston with a tenant who hasn’t been making their full monthly rent payments. Maybe you’re a tenant living in Westfield and your landlord hasn’t had a contractor fix the month-old leak in your roof yet. Whatever situation you find yourself in, you may feel like the only way you’ll get the other party to fulfill their obligations is to get a lawyer involved and take them to court.

Whether you’re a landlord or a tenant, you should typically be able to deal with legal issues without going to court. Some landlord-tenant disputes will leave you with no other option. Both parties need to know the basics of renting out a place, how to collect or pay security deposits, about fair housing laws, etc. This overview of key Massachusetts landlord-tenant laws will help guide you.

Lease Agreements

The lease agreement is the foundation of the landlord-tenant relationship. It is a legally binding contract detailing the responsibilities both the landlord and the tenant promise to uphold. In addition to specifics like amenities, renovations and other apartment features, the lease includes legal details like:

  • Grounds for lease termination and eviction.
  • The rent rate and payment schedule.
  • The security deposit amount and what it covers.
  • The length of the leasing term (weeks, months or years).
  • Repair policy and procedures.
  • Roommate and guest policies.

Security Deposits

When a new tenant signs a lease agreement, Massachusetts landlords often require a separate payment from the first month’s rent called a security deposit. The security deposit can amount to no more than one month’s rent and isn’t considered to be the last month’s rent payment. Landlords are required to place the deposit into an interest-bearing bank account where it’ll remain until the lease is terminated.

Within 30 days after the lease’s termination and once the tenant vacates the rental property, the landlord is required to:

  • Deduct any unpaid rent, unpaid water bills or repair charges for damages beyond normal wear and tear from the security deposit.
  • Return the deposit’s balance.
  • Provide a written notice itemizing any deductions made.
  • Pay out interest at an annual rate of five percent to tenants whose leases lasted one year or longer.

Tenancy at Will

Not all landlord-tenant relationships in Massachusetts require a lease agreement. If a landlord allows a tenant to reside in a rental property and pay rent under a written or verbal agreement, a tenancy at will is created.

Both landlords and tenants may quit a tenancy at will agreement at any time for any reason. However, whichever party decides to terminate the tenancy at will must provide the other with advance written notice within 30 days or a full rental period. If a landlord wants to raise the rental rate, they must provide the same termination notice within 30 days and offer the tenant the chance to remain in the property at the higher rate.

Massachusetts Fair Housing Act

Massachusetts prohibits landlords from discriminating against tenants based on characteristics that are protected by the state’s fair housing laws. Specific actions like telling interested tenants that the availability for rentals is limited may be considered discriminatory if the landlord does these things because of a tenant’s:

  • Veteran status
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Race
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Marital status
  • Public assistance recipient status
  • Color
  • Familial status
  • Ancestry

Getting Legal Help from a Massachusetts Attorney

While many landlord-tenant conflicts can be resolved without going to court, the laws involved in these conflicts are complex. If you find you are in need of legal counsel or advice, you should consider hiring a landlord-tenant lawyer to represent your interests.

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