Massachusetts Security Deposit Returns & Deductions

Massachusetts Security Deposit Returns & Deductions

Last Updated: January 13, 2023 by Ashley Porter

Quick Facts Answer
Acceptable Deductions
  • Unpaid rent and water bills
  • Unpaid real estate taxes
  • Costs of damage
Return Deadline 30 days
Itemized Deductions Required
Penalty for Late Return 3x amount due + 5% interest + court costs + attorneys’ fees

For laws on security deposit collections and holdings in Massachusetts, click here.

Security Deposit Deductions in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, the following things can be deducted from security deposits:

  • Unpaid rent and water bills
  • Unpaid increase in real estate taxes as outlined in the lease
  • Costs of damage excluding normal wear and tear and any damage identified through the initial inspection (unless the landlord can prove it was repaired after the initial inspection and then damaged again)

Most states, such as Massachusetts, do not have a legal limit on how much a landlord can charge for damages except that the charges must be reasonable.

If the cost of the damages exceeds the amount of the security deposit, landlords are entitled to seek additional damages from the former tenant.

What is Considered Normal Wear & Tear vs Damage in Massachusetts?

Normal wear and tear is damage that is expected when a rental unit is used in a normal way, such as gently worn carpets and faded walls. Damage is the destruction caused by abusive or negligent use of a rental unit, like ripped carpets and heavily stained walls.

“Normal wear and tear” is deterioration that occurs naturally as a result of the tenant using the property as it was designed to be used.

Examples include:

  • Gently worn carpets
  • Lightly scratched glass
  • Faded paint and flooring
  • Lightly dirtied grout
  • Loose door handles
  • Stained bath fixtures

“Damage” means destruction to the rental unit that occurs because of abuse or negligence by a tenant during the course of the tenancy.

Examples include:

  • Heavily stained, burned, or torn carpets
  • Broken tiles or windows
  • Holes in the wall
  • Missing fixtures

Can the Landlord Charge for Replacing the Carpet in Massachusetts?

Yes, landlords can charge for replacing the carpet if it is damaged beyond normal wear and tear.

Some wear and tear on a rental unit’s carpet is expected after normal day-to-day use of the property. For example, carpets typically become discolored, indented, or gently worn, when used in a normal way. However, non-typical, abusive use of carpet results in rips, visible stains, or burns. Landlords have the right to charge the tenant for the replacement of the carpet in areas where serious damage has occurred.

Can the Landlord Charge for Nail Holes in Massachusetts?

Yes, landlords can charge a tenant for nail holes if they damage the walls in a way that is not a result of ordinary enjoyment of the rental unit.

Tenants have the right to use the walls within their unit in a reasonable way. This includes inserting small nails or thumbtacks to hang posters or pictures. However, large holes from drilling, multiple nail holes, large nail holes, and holes made for hanging heavier things may be considered damage and thus, chargeable to the tenant.

Can the Landlord Charge a Cleaning Fee in Massachusetts?

Landlords in Massachusetts cannot make deductions from the security deposit for cleaning unless the tenant causes damage that requires cleaning (e.g. wine stains on the carpet).

Can the Landlord Charge for Painting in Massachusetts?

Yes, in Massachusetts, landlords can charge for painting, except for normal wear and tear. For example, if the tenant:

  • Causes damage beyond normal wear and tear
  • Repaints the wall but is not permitted to do so under the lease agreement
  • Repaints the wall in an unprofessional way

Normal wear includes minor scrapes from daily use, fading due to sunlight, or minor cracks in the original paint. Landlords can charge for repainting if the damage is not the result of normal use. This includes stains, large or deep scratches, and water damage.

Can a Security Deposit Be Used for Last Month’s Rent in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts law does not forbid the security deposit from being used for any outstanding rent.

Landlords can include a provision in the lease agreement that the security deposit cannot be used for the last month’s rent until the tenant vacates the rental unit.

Security Deposit Returns in Massachusetts

Landlords must return a security deposit with interest (if due) to the tenant with an itemized list of damages (if there are deductions) no later than 30 days after the termination of the lease.

How Long Do Landlords Have to Return Security Deposits in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts landlords must return any remaining portion of security deposits within 30 days after the termination date specified in a written lease agreement (or after the tenant vacates the rental unit in a tenancy-at-will).

Do Landlords Owe Interest on Security Deposits in Massachusetts?

Landlords in Massachusetts do owe interest on security deposits, but only if they’re held for one year or longer. The interest rate must be 5% or the actual interest paid by the bank, whichever is lower. Interest accrues from the first day of the lease term.

How Do Landlords Give Notice / What Information Do They Have to Provide in Massachusetts?

If deductions are to be made from the security deposit, a written explanation of deductions must be sentwith the remaining portion of the security deposit (if any). The written notice must include a detailed description of the deductions including amounts, receipts, invoices, estimates, and any other relevant documentation.

The written notice must be signed by the landlord or their agent and state specifically that it is signed under the pains and penalties of perjury.

Security Deposit Disputes in Massachusetts

If landlords do not return the security deposit or provide a written statement of deductions, if any, within the required time period, tenants can file for damages in court up to three times the amount of the deposit due to the tenant plus 5% interest, court costs, and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

Tenants can also take legal action against a landlord for:

  • Collection of a security deposit that exceeds the limit
  • Failure to provide a receipt or inventory of damages
  • Failure to place the security deposit in an interest-bearing account, send required notice, or pay interest due
  • Failure to include a detailed record of deductions including receipts, invoices, etc.
  • Unreasonable deductions

How Can Tenants File a Dispute for a Security Deposit in Massachusetts?

If a landlord fails to perform their obligations regarding a security deposit, the tenant can file a dispute in the small claims division of District, Housing, or Boston Municipal Court if the amount of damages is less than $7,000. If the amount is greater, the tenant must file a regular civil case.

A small claims case regarding the return of a security deposit must be filed within 4 years.

Cases are filed in the county where the property is located or where the defendant or plaintiff lives, works or does business. An attorney is not required but permitted. Filing fees are $40 to $150, depending on the amount sought in damages.

Our website provides more information about the process of filing a dispute in Small Claims Court.

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