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 within 14 days of notice. If they do not, then Massachusetts tenants may withhold rent in response to habitability issues or may make the repairs themselves and deduct the cost from future rental payments (not exceeding a total of four months’ rent).
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 (AC not required)|
|Electrical wiring and outlets||Yes|
|Gas lines and fixtures||Yes|
|Garbage removal||Yes (Multi-Family only)|
|Staircases and railings||Yes|
|Accessible fire escapes||Yes|
|Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors||Yes|
|Kitchen appliances||Yes, if provided|
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 Quit. If the tenant remains on the property after the notice period, then the landlord may pursue formal eviction.
- Lease Violation – Massachusetts law does not require landlords to correct a lease violation; however, a landlord must provide a 7-Day Notice to Quit before a formal eviction process can begin.
- No Lease/End of Lease– If a tenant remains in the dwelling unit after the rental term has expired, then a landlord must give the tenant notice before evicting them. Regardless of the type of tenancy, a landlord shall issue a 30-Day Notice to Quit.
- Illegal Acts – Massachusetts landlords have broad authority to determine which illegal acts warrant eviction. For at-will tenants who pay rent on a daily or weekly basis, landlords must give them a 7-Day Notice to Quit. If a tenant is not considered “at-will” Massachusetts law doesn’t specify how much written notice should be given.
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 requires a landlord to obtain permission from the tenant to enter the dwelling unit. A landlord shall provide a reasonable advance notice to enter a premises in the case of access for repairs and alterations. (105 CMR 410.810) Reasonable notice is generally considered at least a 24-hours’ notice. The lease agreement shall indicate that a Massachusetts landlord can enter the dwelling unit only for the following reasons:
- Make repairs or alternations (requires reasonable prior notice).
- Inspect the dwelling unit.
- Show the dwelling to prospective tenants or buyers.
- With a court order.
- If the premises is abandoned.
- Upon inspection within 30 days of the end tenancy or after either party has given notice to terminate the tenancy.
- Emergency situations.
Although, prior notice is not required for a landlord to enter the dwelling unit (except in the case of repairs and alterations), it is customary for a landlord to provide prior notice to their tenants.
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.
- Move-In Checklist – Landlords that charge a security deposit must provide an inventory of the rental unit’s condition in the form of a checklist.
- Security Deposit Holdings – Landlords must disclose the holding information to the tenant.
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.