In Massachusetts, tenants that break their lease early may be held liable for all remaining rent due and any property damage. However, landlords must make a reasonable effort to re-rent and must stop charging the old tenant if a new tenant is found.
Breaking a Lease Early Without Penalty in Massachusetts
In Massachusetts, a tenant may break a lease early without penalty under the following circumstances:
- Permanent change in military station resulting in relocation
- Early termination clause
- Domestic or sexual violence
- Violations of the implied warranty of habitability
- Death of the sole tenant
- Unenforceable, illegal, or void lease
- Harassment or violations of the tenant’s privacy
- Refusal to reasonably accommodate a tenant with physical or mental disability
- Retaliation against the tenant for requesting a repair or reporting to a government entity
In Massachusetts, a landlord can charge an early termination fee if the tenant breaks a lease early, but it must be written into the contract along with the terms. For example, a landlord may require 30-days’ notice and 2 months’ rent in order to break the lease early.
How Much Remaining Rent Could Tenants Owe in Massachusetts?
Massachusetts does not have a law limiting the amount a tenant owes a landlord when breaking a lease early. A tenant could be liable for paying the remaining rent through the life of the lease. However, a landlord must mitigate damages and seek to replace the tenant.
Landlord’s Duty to Mitigate Damages in Massachusetts
In Massachusetts, a landlord must make a reasonable effort to re-rent their unit when a renter has broken a lease early. If the landlord is able to find a new renter, the original occupant who broke the lease no longer has to make rental payments. This is called a landlord’s duty to “mitigate damages .”
Although the law gives no definition of what reasonable effort means when re-renting the unit, Massachusetts courts have provided a few examples:
- The landlord must prepare the property for a new tenant in the same way they would as if they were between leases.
- The landlord must advertise the rental vacancy.
However, if a landlord cannot find a new tenant, the prior tenant is still liable for the remaining rent owed under their lease.
A landlord is not required to fill the unit with any tenant who wants to move in. The landlord is allowed to apply the same standards that they apply to all rental applications, such as having sufficient income to cover rent.
Furthermore, unlike other states, Massachusetts case law specifies that a tenant’s lease may include a clause holding them responsible for paying a landlord to cover other losses associated with breaking the lease. Other losses may include cleaning or repainting the unit to ensure it is ready for the next tenant.
Tenant’s Right to Sublet in Massachusetts
A tenant can legally sublet in Massachusetts so long as they receive the landlord’s permission, and the lease does not specifically prohibit it. Unless the lease states otherwise, a tenant’s right to sublease is contingent upon receiving the landlord’s written consent.
Even though a tenant might have permission to sublet, the landlord retains the right to reject a prospective subtenant. Reasons for rejection might include the subtenant being financially unable to make the lease payments.
If a tenant subleases their unit without the landlord’s explicit written permission, the tenant is in breach of their lease. In Massachusetts, a lease violation permits a landlord to evict the tenant and subtenant (starting with a 7-day notice to vacate) and sue the original tenant for any resulting damages.
In addition to the landlord, the subtenant also may have grounds to take legal action if the original tenant sublet the unit without the landlord’s permission.
Consequences for Moving Out Early in Massachusetts
If a tenant breaks their lease and moves out early, the potential consequences include:
- The landlord keeping the security deposit
- The landlord suing the tenant for damages
- A lower credit score
- A potential bad reference in the future
Can the Landlord Keep the Security Deposit?
If a tenant breaks a lease early, a landlord can keep all or part of the security deposit. The amount kept by the landlord depends on how much the tenant still owes in damages and the remaining rent.
When a tenant breaks a lease early, the landlord can deduct from the deposit the amount of rent the landlord loses until a new tenant starts paying. If the owed rent becomes larger than the amount of the security deposit, then the landlord can hold the tenant liable for the difference—assuming the landlord has made a reasonable effort to re-rent the unit.
Similarly, a landlord can deduct from the deposit any property-related costs such as damage the tenant caused to the premises. These damages need to be caused by the tenant’s negligence or carelessness rather than from normal wear and tear.
Can the Tenant Be Sued for Damages?
If a tenant breaks a lease early in Massachusetts, the landlord can sue a tenant for breach of contract for the remaining rent due or any property damage. Damages for less than $7,000 are considered “small claims” in Massachusetts and should be filed in the county or city in which the tenant is located.
If suing for damages greater than $7,000 a landlord can file a claim in the district court for the county in which they live.