As a tenant or a landlord, you need to make sure that you are on the right side of the law regarding rental agreements, responsibilities, and rights. Landlord-tenant rules in Massachusetts influence how this relationship should exist, what a landlord must do for their tenants, how a tenant must keep up the property in which they live, and under what circumstances changes can be made.
Massachusetts landlord-tenant law is a set of laws that determines the relationship between landlords and tenants. It is this set of laws that determine how much money a landlord can charge in rent, how much the security deposit can be and when it should be returned after a tenant vacates the property, what responsibilities are placed on a tenant during the time of their tenancy, and more.
Your Massachusetts landlord-tenant act determines the responsibilities and rights of landlords as it relates to rental properties and tenants.
Landlords have a duty to make repairs and maintain their rental properties as soon as possible. Major problems, such as heating or plumbing issues, need to be handled within 24 hours. However, landlords are required to provide advance notice to their tenants before they can enter the property. A landlord is permitted to enter without notice only in the case of an emergency, such as a serious water leak or a fire.
There are situations where state law might dictate that the landlord provide 48 hours’ notice before entering the property, but a tenant can work out an agreement with their landlord to allow them access sooner to fix a serious plumbing issue.
Under most local and state laws, a landlord must maintain a property that satisfies basic habitability requirements. These requirements include:
Additionally, the rental property must be free from health hazards and dangers, such as:
Finally, it must have reasonable protection against intrusion from criminals.
There are also local building codes or housing codes that dictate the standards for things like electrical wiring, spacing between the bars on a porch, ventilation, and light, as well as the types of locks and keys required for the property, and carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. Local fire departments, health departments, and housing authorities determine requirements and subsequent penalties for any violations of basic landlord responsibilities.
When a tenant signs a lease agreement, this gives them exclusive use of the rental property. Therefore, the landlord does not have the right to enter that property except as defined by the terms of the rental agreement or state law.
Many states have laws that require a landlord to provide a minimum of 24 hours’ notice before entering the property, and they typically cannot enter without good reason.
For example: A landlord has to provide 24-hours’ notice that they are entering a rental property to make repairs or to show the unit to prospective renters once they know that the current renters are vacating the property.
States like Alabama and Arizona require 2 days’ notice, whereas Florida requires only 12 hours. However, in most cases, only 24 hours’ notice is required.
A landlord is allowed to increase the rent based on state statutes. Landlords cannot increase rent as a form of retaliation, and they cannot indiscriminately increase rent whenever they want. If a tenant has a lease agreement, landlords cannot raise the rent until the end of that agreement period unless there is language in the agreement that stipulates otherwise.
Agreements that are month-to-month allow landlords to raise the rent or change any part of the agreement as long as they give proper notice. In most states, proper notice is in written form through certified mail and requires at least 30 days’ notice.
Massachusetts renters rights dictate the rights of tenants in the state. Tenants have a right to a property that is habitable. This is legally referred to as an “implied warranty of habitability.” This implied warranty or legal standard of habitability is taken from state statutes as well as local requirements and any local court decisions.
As a tenant, you have the right to live in a space that is fit and habitable. If it isn’t, or there is any damage during your tenancy, you have the right to contact your landlord without any repercussions and request that they fix the problems. Landlords are required to make repairs in a timely fashion, especially for problems such as plumbing, safety, mold, or heating issues.
Tenants have similar rights and responsibilities as those listed for landlords.
For example: A tenant has the right to adequate warning before a landlord visits the property or sends someone to the property for repairs. Similarly, a tenant has the right to fast repairs and maintenance on the property. Tenants have the right to the following: written notice for any rent increases based on state law, privacy from the landlord, and proper notice for any changes to the lease or termination of the lease.
State laws often provide limits on how much landlords can charge for security deposits. If a state has “no statutory limit,” that means there is no state law dictating how much a landlord can collect for a security deposit.
Colorado is an example of a state with no statutory limit, as is Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Oklahoma, Utah, and Vermont.
States like Virginia permit a landlord to collect up to two months’ rent for a security deposit. Pennsylvania is a bit more specific, allowing a landlord to collect two months’ rent for a security deposit for the first year of renting, one month’s rent for the second year, and no subsequent deposit for any following years. Most states allow only one months’ rent to be collected for a security deposit, such as Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Delaware, and Alabama. In California, a landlord may require a tenant to provide a security deposit in the amount of two months’ rent for unfurnished properties and 3 months’ rent for furnished properties.
Additionally, in California, landlords are permitted to collect an extra 1/2 months’ rent for anyone with a waterbed. Many states allow landlords to collect an extra deposit for tenants who are bringing pets.
How long a landlord has to return the security deposit to a tenant after they vacate the premises changes from one state to another. For some states, like Alabama, it’s as long as 60 days. For others, it’s as short as 14 days. For many states, there are different requirements based on the circumstances.
For example, the following states require landlords to return a security deposit within 14 days:
The following states require a landlord to return the tenant’s security deposit within 30 days:
States have very specific procedures that control how a landlord can terminate a tenancy. This varies based on the reason for termination, which can include violating a clause in the lease or failure to pay rent.
There are a few states which allow landlords to terminate without giving the tenants an opportunity to rectify a violation of the lease. This is legally called an unconditional quit notice.
For example: If you have repeatedly violated a clause in your lease, you have substantially damaged the rental property, or you are caught selling drugs, your landlord can provide you with an unconditional quit termination notice and specify how much time you have to vacate the property before they file for eviction.
Unconditional quit notices are enforced differently based on the infraction. Some states will enforce the notice immediately, and others won’t enforce it for three or five days. However, other states take even longer to enforce this type of notice.
For example, in Illinois, a landlord can provide a tenant with an unconditional quit notice and give them only five days to move out.
In Arizona, if a tenant misrepresented a prior eviction on their record, their criminal record, or current criminal activity, a landlord can ask that the tenant leave the property within 10 days. If the tenant is involved in criminal street gang activity, selling illegal drugs, discharging a weapon in the home, homicide, or prostitution, the tenant can be asked to leave immediately.
By comparison, in California, a tenant has three days to vacate a property if they conducted illegal activity on the premises or they were subletting without permission.
In Arkansas, a tenant has five days to move out if they fail to adhere to the rental agreement, if they don’t pay rent within five days of the due date, or if they are charged with criminal offenses.
The District of Columbia only allows landlords to provide unconditional quit notices if a court determines that illegal activity was performed in the rental unit. An unconditional quit notice allows 30 days for the tenant to leave.
Once a landlord has followed the state laws for a termination based on a lease violation, they can file for eviction. The rules change depending on the state. For example, in Oklahoma, the tenant has 10 days to cure the issue and then an additional five days to vacate the premises. In South Dakota, a landlord is required to provide the tenant with 3 days’ notice to quit and leave the property before they can file for eviction. You can learn more about your state laws and exemptions here.
A landlord cannot discriminate against a tenant or prospective tenant on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender. If you believe you are being discriminated against illegally, you can report it to the appropriate state body or file a lawsuit.