Resource

Tenants' Rights

Last updated: 11/8/2012

TENANT’S RIGHTS and RESPONSIBILITIES

Before You Rent

Rights against unlawful discrimination
A Landlord can’t refuse to rent to you on the basis of race, religion, national origin, age, ancestry, military background or service, sex, sexual preference, marital status, blindness, deafness, or the need of a guide dog, unless the property is an owner-occupied building with 2 units or fewer.

Types of Tenancy
Tenant with Lease – The tenant signs a lease to rent an apartment for a specific period of time.  The landlord can’t increase your rent until the end of the lease and can’t evict you until the end of the lease unless the agreement is violated.
Tenant at Will – The tenant occupies a rented apartment without a lease but typically pays monthly rent.  The landlord or the tenant can terminate the agreement at any time, for any reason, by giving written notice 30 days in advance.
In either type of tenancy, you have a legal responsibility to pay your rent. 

Looking for an Apartment
Before you sign a lease: READ IT!
•    You have a right to ask your landlord about average utility cost
•    You have a right to check the apartment to make sure it’s in good condition
•    You have a right to put all repair agreements in writing
•    You have a right to talk with neighbors about the reputation of the landlord or management company
•    Be sure that you really want the apartment before you put any money down

Paying for your Apartment

Pre-Payments: Security Deposits and Last Month’s Rent
Before you move in, landlords can collect a security deposits and first and last month’s rent.  Security deposits are the deposit of money to the landlord to ensure that rent will be paid and other responsibilities of the agreement are performed.  Here are some additional things you need to know about security deposits:
•    The landlord must deposit all security deposits into a separate, interest bearing account. 
•    If the landlord takes a security deposit, they have to give you a signed statement of the apartment’s condition and list any existing damage.  You can submit a separate list of damages within 15 days.
•    The landlord must return the security deposit or balance within 30 days of the end of the tenancy, and they must pay interest on the deposit. 
•    Deductions can be made for unpaid rent or what’s necessary to repair damages caused by you.

Rent
You have to pay your rent on time and according to the conditions of the lease. A landlord can’t charge interest or a penalty on late rent until it is more than 30 days late. 

Living in your Apartment

Tenants' Rights

Right against Unlawful Entry
Your landlord can enter your apartment without your express permission in order to inspect the premises, make repairs, or show the apartment to a prospective tenant. They can also come to inspect 30 days before the end of the tenancy to determine the amount of damage to be deducted from a security deposit.
Habitability. You are entitled to a safe and habitable living environment.  This means that the landlord has to provide you with the following things:
•    Enough water, including hot water, to meet your ordinary needs
•    A heating system in good working order
•    A kitchen sink, a stove and oven, and space for a refrigerator
•    A unit free from rodents, cockroaches, and insect infestation
•    A property that excludes wind, rain, snow, is rodent-proof, weather-tight, watertight, free from chronic dampness, and is in good repair

Tenants’ Remedies
If your landlord fails to maintain the apartment in a habitable condition, you have options.  You can either withhold a portion of the rent or you can make emergency repairs and deduct up to four months rent, but you can only do this if three conditions are met:
1.    The local Board of Health has certified that the conditions in the apartment endanger your health or safety;
2.    The landlord receives written notice of the existing violations from the inspecting agency; AND
3.    The landlord is given five days from the notice to begin repairs or contract for services, and 14 days to complete all repairs.

If your landlord fails to maintain, repair or fix something that is making your apartment uninhabitable, call the local Board of Health in your community

Leaving Your Apartment

Eviction
In Massachusetts, a landlord may NOT evict you without a judge’s order.  Your landlord may try to evict you for the following reasons:
1.    Non-payment of rent:  If you are being evicted for non-payment of rent, you can avoid eviction by paying all rent owed, plus interest, and some additional costs.
2.    Causing excessive damage to the apartment
3.    Violating terms of the lease

Moving Out

Before you move out, schedule an appointment with the landlord for an inspection of your apartment, because this can help prevent future disputes with your landlord about damage.  Some additional things to consider:
•    If you gave the landlord a security deposit, review the Statement of Condition form; 
•    Clean the apartment on the day that you leave;
•    Take and date pictures of the apartment at the moment you move out to help resolve disputes about security deposits;
•    Be sure to leave the landlord a forwarding address so she can mail you your security deposit and any accumulated interest you are owed.

LANDLORD’S RIGHTS and RESPONSIBILITIES

Landlord’s Role Before Renting

Duty not to discriminate
Landlords cannot discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, religion, military or veteran status, blindness, deafness, receipt of public assistance or a housing subsidy, or children, unless the property is an owner-occupied building with 2 units or fewer.

Before You Sign a Prospective Tenant
•    You have a right to run a credit check and check the tenant’s rental history.
•    You have a right to confirm a tenant’s current employment or require that the tenant obtain a co-signer to guarantee their rental obligation
•    You should inspect the apartment completely after the current tenant vacates to assess damage and to ensure that it is in good repair.
•    You should provide a written document about the current condition of the apartment.  Note that this is required if you collect a Security Deposit, in the form of a “Statement of Condition.”

Types of Tenancy

Tenant with Lease
The tenant signs a lease to rent an apartment for a specific period of time.  You can’t increase the tenant’s rent until the end of the lease and can’t evict the tenant until the end of the lease unless the rental agreement is violated.  If the tenant leaves the apartment before the end of the lease term, they owe rent for the remaining balance of the lease, but you must make reasonable efforts to find a new tenant.

Tenant at Will
The tenant occupies a rented apartment without a lease but typically pays monthly rent.  Either the landlord or the tenant can terminate the agreement at any time, for any reason, by giving written notice 30 days in advance.  A tenancy at will should be made in writing.

Obtaining Payment for an Apartment

Security Deposits and Last Month’s Rent
You can charge last month’s rent as a pre-payment at the beginning of the tenancy.  Security deposits are the deposit of money to you to ensure that rent will be paid and other responsibilities of the agreement are performed.  Here are some additional things you need to know:
•    You must deposit all security deposits into a separate, interest-bearing escrow account, separate from your own money.
•    If you take a security deposit, you have to give the tenant a signed statement of the apartment’s condition and list any existing damage.  The tenant can submit a separate list of damages within 15 days. 
•    You must return the security deposit or balance within 30 days of the end of the tenancy, and you must pay interest on the deposit. 
•    Deductions can be made for unpaid rent or what’s necessary to repair damages caused by the tenant.

While You Have a Tenant

Landlords’ Rights
You have the following rights as a landlord:
•    Prompt payment. You have the right to receive rent on the first of the month unless the parties agree otherwise.
•    Increase rent. You have the right to increase the rent in any reasonable amount, but in a tenancy with a lease, you must wait until the lease term expires, and in a tenancy at will, you must first end the tenancy and then notify the tenant of the rent increase.
•    Utility payment. You may require tenants to pay their own electricity and gas bills, but this should be written into the tenancy agreement.
•    Enter the premises. You have the right to enter the apartment to show it to prospective tenants, to inspect the premises, to make repairs, to inspect within 30 days of the end of a previous tenancy.

Habitability
You must provide a habitable apartment for the entire tenancy.  You must provide the following:
•    A heating system for the apartment.
•    A kitchen sink, stove and oven in good working order, and electrical hook-ups for a refrigerator.
•    Enough water to meet a tenant’s ordinary needs and hot water.
•    An apartment free from rodent, insect, and other infestation.
•    Exits free from snow, trash, and other obstructions.
•    Premises that exclude wind, rain, and snow, are rodent-proof, weather-tight, watertight, free from chronic dampness, in good repair, and fit for human habitation.

Tenants’ Rights
If you fail to maintain the premises in habitable condition during the tenancy, tenants may, under certain conditions, withhold a portion of the rent or validly make repairs themselves and deduct the cost from future rent.  

Evicting  a Tenant from the Apartment
In Massachusetts, a landlord may evict a tenant only with a judge’s order.  If a tenant is being evicted for non-payment of rent, they can avoid eviction by paying all rent owed, plus interest, and some additional costs.

For More Information. www.masspirgstudents.org
Housing Discrimination. Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (617-994-6000)
Legal Advocacy and Resource Center.  Staff provide resources and screen cases for referral to the Volunteer Lawyers’ Project (617-603-1700) or (1-800-342-5297).
www.masslegalhelp.org/housing: provides forms that can be used to send a letter to the landlord regarding poor conditions in the apartment, resolve utility problems in the apartment, or defend an eviction.

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Note:  The contents of this webpage are in no way intended as legal advice but for educational purposes.

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