In Massachusetts, rental agreements can be either oral or written. According to Massachusetts law, (Massachusetts Legislature Ch. 186) this agreement allows rights to landlords, including the right to collect payment for rent in a timely manner and the right to deduct for damages that exceed normal wear and tear.
Tenants are also given rights which include the right to a habitable dwelling and the right to take at least two forms of alternative action.
Note: These rights exist regardless of a rental agreement stating otherwise.
Landlord Responsibilities in Massachusetts
In Massachusetts, landlords are required to provide habitable housing and must make requested repairs in a timely manner (14 days). If they do not, then Massachusetts tenants may withhold rent or may make the repairs themselves and deduct the cost from future rental payments.
Here is a list of essential amenities that landlords may or may not be responsible for.
|Walls, floors, and ceilings||Yes|
|Heating and air conditioning||Yes|
|Electrical wiring and outlets||Yes|
|Gas lines and fixtures||Yes|
|Staircases and railings||Yes|
|Accessible fire escapes||Yes|
|Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors||Yes|
Landlords are not allowed to evict tenants in retaliation for exercising their housing rights (i.e. filing a health or safety complaint).
Tenant Responsibilities in Massachusetts
Aside from paying rent in a timely manner, Massachusetts tenants are required to:
- Keep the unit in a clean and habitable condition
- Keep fixtures clean and sanitary
- Perform small repairs and maintenance
- Not disturb other tenants or neighbors
Evictions in Massachusetts
Massachusetts landlords are empowered to evict tenants for the following reasons:
- Nonpayment of rent – If a tenant does not pay rent by the due date, then a Massachusetts landlord may file a 14-Day Notice to Pay or Quit. If the tenant still does not pay within 14 days, then the landlord may pursue formal eviction.
- Lease violation – Massachusetts law does not require landlords to give advance notice in the case of lease violations. As such, if a lease violation occurs, tenants may face immediate eviction without notice.
- Illegal acts – Massachusetts landlords have broad authority to determine which illegal acts warrant eviction. If a landlord has documentation of illegal activities on the premises, they may file for immediate eviction.
At-will tenants in good standing are entitled to 7 days or 30 days’ advance notice, depending on if they pay on a weekly or monthly basis, respectively. Landlords are not permitted to evict tenants in retaliation or for discriminatory reasons, as well as for joining a tenant union or taking legal action against another household member for alleged domestic abuse.
Security Deposits in Massachusetts
- Standard Limit/Maximum Amount – 1 month’s rent.
- Time Limit for Returns – 30 days.
- Penalty if Not Returned on Time – Massachusetts landlord who wrongfully withholds rent may be liable to pay up to 3 times the original deposit’s value.
- Allowable Deductions – Unpaid rent, unpaid taxes, damages that exceed normal wear and tear.
Lease Termination in Massachusetts
Notice requirements. If a tenant wishes to terminate a periodic lease, then they must give the following amounts of notice:
|Rent Payment Frequency||Notice Needed|
|Year-to-Year||Same amount as average pay interval (normally 3 months)|
Early termination. Massachusetts tenants may legally break a lease early for the following reasons:
- Early termination clause
- Active military duty
- Landlord harassment
- Domestic violence
Massachusetts tenants who break a lease early may be liable to pay the remainder of the lease. Massachusetts landlords are not obligated to help re-rent a unit.
Rent Increases & Related Fees in Massachusetts
- Rent control. Massachusetts law preempts all rent control policies at a state and local level. As such, landlords can charge whatever they wish in rental prices.
- Rental increases. Landlords in Massachusetts must give at least 30 days’ notice before raising rental prices. Tenants can disagree with the rental increase and unconditionally break their lease.
- Rent-related fees. The state does not put a limit on late rental fees but there is a $30 limit on returned check fees. Also, the law strictly limits what kind of fees landlords can charge at the beginning and end of a tenancy.
Housing Discrimination in Massachusetts
Protected groups. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against tenants on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, familial status, sex, or disability. These rules do not apply to owner-occupied homes or homes operated by religious organizations. Massachusetts state law adds extra protections for tenants on the basis of income source, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, marital status, military status, or genetic information.
Discriminatory acts & penalties. The state’s Attorney General Civil Rights Division handles housing discrimination complaints. The following behaviors have been identified as potentially discriminatory when directed at a member of a protected class:
- Refusing to rent
- Providing different terms, conditions, or privileges
- Steering tenants into certain neighborhoods
- Refusing to make reasonable physical accommodations
- Refusing to provide certain financial services
- Threatening to report tenants or anyone related to them to immigration authorities
The Attorney General does not list specific punishments for discrimination, so it is assumed that each penalty is handled on a case-by-case basis.
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in Massachusetts
Landlord Right to Entry in Massachusetts
Massachusetts law does not mandate that landlords give prior notice before entering a property. As such, landlords are assumed to have the right to enter properties whenever, unless the lease agreement states otherwise. Landlords operating in the commonwealth must give at least 24 hours’ notice. Landlords do not have to provide advance notice in the case of emergencies.
Small Claims Court in Massachusetts
Massachusetts small claims court will hear rent-related disputes valued up to $7,000 but will not hear eviction cases. Written and sealed contracts have a 6-year and 20-year statute of limitations, respectively.
Mandatory Disclosures in Massachusetts
Massachusetts landlords must make the following mandatory disclosures:
- Lead-based paint. Landlords that own properties built before 1978 must provide information about the concentrations of lead paint.
- Authorized agents. Landlords must also disclose the names and addresses of all parties involved in owning and managing the property.
- Property insurance provider. Landlords must disclose the insurance provider for the property within 15 days as well as the amount the property is insured for.
- Security deposit locations. Landlords must provide the location where the tenant’s security deposit is held.
Changing the Locks in Massachusetts
It is unclear whether Massachusetts law allows tenants to change locks without permission. Tenants may request that a landlord change the locks if they are the victim of domestic abuse. Landlords are forbidden from changing the locks as a form of eviction (i.e. “lockouts”).
Additional Resources for Massachusetts Renters
In addition, check your local county and municipality for additional landlord-tenant regulations. To learn more, please refer to the below digital resources.