Massachusetts Landlord Tenant Law

Looking for clear and concise information on Massachusetts landlord tenant law? Get all your answers from this plain English guide to the Massachusetts Landlord Tenant Act.

MA Landlord Tenant Law

  • Massachusetts General Laws Part II, Title I, Chapter 186 - Estates for Years and At Will

Tenant Application

Application Fees

The landlord can ask prospective tenants for application fees to cover the costs of background and credit checks. The fee amount should be reasonable - We recommend charging $25 to $30 per applicant. If the landlord did not run any tenant screening checks, the fees should be refunded.

Background and Credit Check

Before running background or credit checks on tenant applicants, landlords must first obtain the applicant's written permission. [Fair Credit Reporting Act § 604(a)(3)(F)]

For landlords to run background and credit checks, the tenant application form needs to ask for the applicant's:

  • full name
  • date of birth
  • social security number or ITIN (individual taxpayer identification number)
  • current address
  • signed consent (e.g. "I authorize the use of the information and contacts provided to complete a credit, reference, and/or background check.")

Avoiding Discrimination

The federal Fair Housing Act disallows landlords from rejecting prospective renters based on their race, color, religion, nationality, sex, *familial status or physical/mental disability. *Familial status means landlords cannot reject someone for having one or more children under 18. Familial status also includes pregnant women and people planning to have (or adapt) children under 18.

Massachusetts landlord tenant law also prohibits landlords from rejecting someone for having one or more children under six years old. [MGL Ch.111, Sec.199A] [MGL Ch.186, Sec.16]

In addition, Massachusetts landlord tenant law disallows landlords from rejecting someone as a renter because or his or her age, ancestry, military background, sexual preference or marital status (except for two family dwellings that are owner occupied). [MGL Ch.151B, Sec.4]

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Tenancy Agreement

A tenancy agreement (also known as a lease agreement or rental agreement) can be written or verbal.

After the landlord has agreed to rent and obtained the tenant's signature, he or she must deliver a signed copy of the lease to the tenant within 30 days. [MGL Ch.186, Sec.15D]

The landlord and tenant can choose between a month to month tenancy or fixed term lease. For a month to month tenancy, the landlord or tenant can change its terms and conditions at the end of every month. For a fixed term lease, the landlord and tenant CANNOT change the lease terms and conditions during its duration... unless there is written consent from both parties.

Required for Tenancy Agreement

Massachusetts landlord tenant law requires all tenancy agreements to contain the following details:

  • Name and address of person authorized to manage the property
  • Name and address or property owner or owner's agent (person authorized to act on behalf of owner)
  • Details of water submetering and billing arrangement (if landlord charges tenant separately for water usage) [MGL Ch.186, Sec.22.(f)]
  • Disclosure and information of lead-based paint in the property (for housing built before 1978)

Recommended for Tenancy Agreement

  • Name and address of tenant(s)
  • Number of people (occupants) staying on the property
  • Type of tenancy: month to month tenancy or fixed term lease
  • How much is the rent
  • When, how and where the rent is to be paid
  • When is rent is considered late and the penalties for late rent payment
  • How much is the security deposit and pet deposit (if any)
  • Who holds the deposit(s) and where will it be held
  • What utilities and services are provided and who pays for them
  • What are the landlord's and tenant's duties for property maintenance
  • Can the tenant sublet the property or assign the lease
  • When to inform the landlord if tenant will be away for a long time
  • Prohibited activities and items

Disallowed for Tenancy Agreement

According to Massachusetts landlord tenant law, your lease agreement CANNOT:

  • dismiss or limit the landlord's liability when they have failed in their duties [MGL Ch.186, Sec.15]
  • allow the landlord to evict the tenant for not paying rent without giving a 14 day notice to quit [MGL Ch.186, Sec.15A]
  • allow the landlord to enter the property without the tenant's permission (except for certain situations) [MGL Ch.186, Sec.15B] - See Property Access below
  • waive the landlord's duty to deliver a signed copy of the lease to the tenant within 30 days (after agreeing to rent and obtaining the tenant's signature) [MGL Ch.186, Sec.15D]
  • allow the building owner to raise a defense if sued by a tenant or occupant who was injured due to a (pre-existing) defect in a common area. [MGL Ch.186, Sec.15E]
  • allow the landlord to withhold the property's insurance information (if the tenant requests for it) [MGL Ch.186, Sec.15E]

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Security Deposit

The following Massachusetts security deposit laws do NOT apply if you're renting a property for vacation or recreation for 100 days or less. [MGL Ch.186, Sec.15B.(9)]

Massachusetts landlord tenant law allows the landlord to ask for up to one month's rent as security deposit. [MGL Ch.186, Sec.15B.(1)(b)(iii)]

Holding Security Deposit

Massachusetts landlord tenant law requires the landlord to hold the security deposit in an interest-bearing account of a bank in Massachusetts. This account cannot contain other types of funds. [MGL Ch.186, Sec.15B.(3)(a)]

Within 30 days of receiving the deposit, the landlord has to give the tenant a receipt with the following details (of the deposit account):

  • bank name and location
  • account number
  • amount deposited

If the landlord fails to do so, the tenant can ask the landlord to return the security deposit immediately.  [MGL Ch.186, Sec.15B.(3)(a)]

The landlord has to pay the tenant interest earned by the deposit account every one year. If the tenancy is terminated before a full year, the landlord shall pay the tenant pro-rated interest within 30 days.  [MGL Ch.186, Sec.15B.(3)(b)]

Deductions and Returns

Massachusetts landlord tenant law requires the landlord to inform the tenant of the terms and conditions for security deposit deductions.
  
Valid reasons for security deposit deductions (under Massachusetts landlord tenant law) include:

  • Rent owed
  • Property damage due to negligence, misuse or abuse by tenant, occupants or tenant's guests
  • Costs and losses incurred by landlord due to the tenant failing in his or her duties

The landlord is NOT allowed to take money from the security deposit due to damage from *normal wear and tear. [MGL Ch.186, Sec.15B.(4)(iii)] *Normal wear and tear is the natural deterioration of the property (and its contents) from normal everyday use.

Once the lease terminates and the tenant returns the property, the landlord must send the tenant a list of security deposit deductions and refund any remaining deposit (plus interest) within 30 days. This list has to individually account for all damages and rent owed in writing. [MGL Ch.186, Sec.15B.(4)(iii)]

If the landlord fails to follow Massachusetts landlord tenant law for holding, deducting or returning security deposit, the tenant can sue the landlord for three times the security deposit amount with additional 5% interest PLUS court costs and attorney fees [MGL Ch.186, Sec.15B.(6)(a),(d),(e),(7)]

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Boston, Massachusetts MA

Massachusetts Landlord Tenant Law

Rent

The tenant has to pay the rent without demand or reminders. As long as the landlord and tenant are agreeable, they can choose the time, place and method of rent payment.
   
By default, rent is payable once the tenancy begins and shall be paid on the same day of every month. Rent is to be collected at the rental property.

Massachusetts landlord tenant law allows the landlord can collect a maximum of two month's rent (first and last month) before a tenancy begins. [MGL Ch.186, Sec.15B.(1)(b)] If the landlord (or landlord's agent) collected the last month's rent in advance, he or she has to give the tenant a receipt for it. [MGL Ch.186, Sec.15B.(2)(a)]

Late Rent

If the landlord wants to impose late rent fees, it has to be specified in the tenancy agreement.

The landlord can only charge late fees when rent payment is at least 30 days overdue. [MGL Ch.186, Sec.15B.(1)(c)]

The landlord can charge the tenant up to $30 for every bounced or returned check.

Raising Rent

According to the Massachusetts Landlord Tenant Act, the landlord can choose to raise the rent by any amount.
   
For a month to month tenancy, the landlord has to notify the tenant of a rent increase at least 30 days in advance. The tenant can then choose to pay the higher rent or move out. If the tenant chooses to leave, he or she should give the landlord a 30 day notice to terminate tenancy in writing.
   
For a fixed term tenancy, the landlord isn't allowed to raise the rent until the tenancy expires.

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Property Maintenance

Landlord Duties and Responsibilities

The Massachusetts Landlord Tenant Act requires the landlord to maintain the property in a safe and habitable condition:

  • Heating: Supply running water, hot water and heating (as far as conditions allow)
  • Kitchen: Provide sink, stove, oven and electrical outlet for refrigerator
  • Water: Pay for water and sewerage bills
  • Pest Control: Exterminate all pest and rodent infestation from apartment and common areas (if there are two or more apartments in the building)
  • Maintenance: Maintain all structures such as floors, walls, doors, windows, ceilings, roof, stairwells, porches, chimneys and the foundation in safe working condition
  • Exits: Keep all exits free from obstructions such as snow and trash

If Landlord Fails to Maintain Property

If the landlord fails to maintain the property, the tenant has a few choices:

1. The tenant can withhold part of the rent until repairs are made if ONE of the following conditions are met:

  • Tenant has informed the landlord in writing to make necessary repairs
  • Local Board of Health has informed the landlord of health code violations are inspecting the property
  • Tenant didn't cause the problem + Rent isn't overdue + Repairs can made without having to vacate the property

How much rent the tenant should withhold depends on the condition of the property. Once the landlord has repaired all defects, the tenant has to pay all withheld rent.

2. If ALL three following conditions are met, the tenant can EITHER make emergency repairs and deduct the cost from rent OR terminate the tenancy:

  • Local Board of Health or code enforcement agency has confirmed that the property condition endangers the tenant's health or safety
  • Local Board of Health or code enforcement agency has informed the landlord of the code violations
  • Landlord failed to begin repairs within five days or didn't complete repairs within 14 days

The tenant must keep all receipts for repair-related costs. Massachusetts landlord tenant law allows the tenant to deduct up to four month's (future) rent to cover repair costs.

If the tenant doesn't want to make repairs, he or she can choose to terminate the rental agreement. After terminating the rental agreement, the tenant has to pay all rent owed and move out within a reasonable period of time.

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Property Access

When Tenant's Permission is Required

According to Massachusetts landlord tenant law, the landlord is only allowed to enter the property for the following reasons [MGL Ch.186, Sec.15B.(1)(a)]:

  • Performing property maintenance or repairs
  • Supplying essential (or mutually agreed) services and utilities
  • Obtaining readings for utility consumption
  • Inspecting property for damages
  • Inspecting property for security deposit deductions (during last 30 days of tenancy)
  • Showing property to prospective buyers, tenants or contractors
  • Court order granting landlord access to the property

We recommend that the landlord inform the tenant at least 24 hours in advance before entering the property. The landlord can only enter the property with the tenant's consent and during reasonable hours.

When Tenant's Permission is NOT Required

According to the Massachusetts Landlord Tenant Act, the landlord may enter the property without permission in the following situations:

  • Emergencies such as smoke, fire, flooding or explosion

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Subletting

There are no specific Massachusetts landlord tenant laws on subletting.

We recommend that the landlord and tenant work out the following details and include them in the rental agreement:

  • Is the tenant allowed to sublet the property? If yes, is the landlord's written consent required before the tenant can sublet?
  • Is the landlord allowed to screen and reject every prospective subtenant?
  • Can the landlord ask for additional rent and security deposit if the tenant sublets?

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Springfield, Massachusetts MA

Springfield, Massachusetts MA

Termination of Tenancy

Number of Days for Notice to Quit

Massachusetts landlord tenant law requires you to give the other party a written notice to quit before terminating a tenancy. How long in advance you have to give this notice depends on how often rent is paid [MGL Ch.186, Sec.12]:

Payment interval is 30 days or less (e.g. week to week, month to month tenancy): You have to give this notice 30 days in advance.

Payment interval is more than 30 days but less than three months: Number of days for giving a notice to quit is same as the payment interval (e.g. You must give a 60 day notice if the rent is paid every 60 days).

Payment interval is more than three months (e.g. year to year tenancy): You have to give this notice three months in advance.

TENANT

If you are the tenant, the following are the minimum number of days for giving your landlord a notice to quit:

Tenant or family member is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking

Immediate

Tenant or Family Member is a Victim of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault or Stalking

If the tenant or tenant's family member is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking within the last 90 days, he or she can terminate the tenancy immediately by giving the landlord a written notice to quit. [MGL Ch.186, Sec.24.(b)]

If the landlord requests for proof of the victim's status, the tenant shall have to submit one of the following documents to the landlord [MGL Ch.186, Sec.24.(e)]:

  • Copy of protection order under chapter 209A or 258E
  • Court or law enforcement record of the domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking
  • Verification from a qualified organization, agency, clinic or professional service provider

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Eviction

According to Massachusetts landlord tenant law, the following are valid reasons for evicting tenants and the minimum number of days for giving them a notice to quit:

Tenant did not pay rent

14 days

Tenant or occupant carried out illegal activities on property

Immediate

Tenant Did Not Pay Rent

If the tenant did not pay rent on time, the landlord can send the tenant a 14 day written notice to terminate the tenancy. This notice must state the amount of rent owed and inform the tenant that he or she can choose to pay or move out.

If the rent is paid within 14 days, the tenant may stay.

However if the tenant is late in paying rent again within the next 12 months, the landlord can evict the tenant by sending him or her another 14 day notice to quit. In this case, the tenant must move out. [MGL Ch.186 Sec.12]

Tenant or Occupant Carried Out Illegal Activities on Property

If the tenant or occupant engaged in illegal activity on the property, the landlord can evict the tenant immediately by sending him or her a written notice to quit. [MGL Ch.139 Sec.19]

Examples of illegal activities include prostitution, violent threats or acts, illegal gambling, illegal firearms possession, firearms, illegal alcohol consumption or sale, illegal drug consumption, production or sale.

Unlawful Eviction

If the landlord or landlord's agent keeps the tenant off the property WITHOUT a court order, the tenant can EITHER

  1. regain possession of the property OR
  2. terminate the tenancy agreement

In addition, the tenant may also sue the landlord for three month's rent or three times actual damages PLUS court costs and attorney fees. [MGL Ch.186, Sec.15F]

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Abandonment

There are no specific Massachusetts landlord tenant laws on abandonment of property by the tenant.

We recommend that the landlord and tenant work out the following details and include them in the rental agreement:

  • When is the property considered abandoned by the tenant? - Tenant hasn't paid rent for X days, Tenant has been absent from the property for X days (without informing the landlord)
  • After the property is abandoned, does the tenant have to continue paying rent until the landlord finds a new tenant?
  • What will happen to the tenant's abandoned belongings? - Can the landlord dispose or sell them immediately OR does the landlord have to hold it for a period of time?
  • If the landlord is holding the abandoned belongings, how long does the tenant have to claim it back AND does the tenant have to pay the landlord any holding costs?

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Resources

Massachusetts Landlord Tenant Law: Massachusetts General Law Chapter 186: Estates for Years and At Will

Massachusetts Landlord Tenant Rights: The Attorney General's Guide to Landlord and Tenant Rights

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