What a Landlord Cannot Do in Massachusetts

What a Landlord Cannot Do in Massachusetts

Last Updated: May 31, 2024 by Roberto Valenzuela

Massachusetts law defines many actions that landlords cannot do. Find out what’s allowed, when they’re allowed, and what the consequences for illegal landlord actions are.

1. Retaliate

Landlords in Massachusetts cannot retaliate against tenants for exercising their rights under the law. A tenant’s legal rights may include reporting violations to a local health board or withholding rent because of a landlord’s failure to make necessary repairs.

Actions that may constitute retaliation include:

  • Increasing rent
  • Terminating a lease
  • Evicting a tenant
  • Decreasing services or access to amenities

Consequences for Landlords Who Retaliate

Landlords who retaliate are at risk of having the tenant terminate the lease and sue the landlord. If a court decides the landlord has retaliated against the tenant, the following penalties may be assessed:

  • One month’s rent plus $500
  • Reasonable costs to move to another place
  • Attorney’s fees and costs
  • Injunctive relief

When Can a Landlord Retaliate?

Under landlord-tenant law in Massachusetts, there is never a time that a landlord can retaliate against a tenant for exercising their rights.

However, actions that may seem retaliatory can be legal if within the law. For instance, a landlord may increase the rent at the end of the lease term, and terminate a lease or evict a tenant for violating the terms of the agreement.

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2. Discriminate

Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords cannot discriminate against a tenant based on protected characteristics such as race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.

Discriminatory acts include:

  • Harassing tenants
  • Refusing to rent and making housing unavailable to a tenant
  • Setting different terms and conditions for certain tenants
  • Providing different services to certain tenants

A landlord requires female tenants to pay more rent than male tenants.

Consequences for Landlords Who Discriminate

Landlords who discriminate are at risk of having the tenant terminate the lease and sue the landlord. When suing the landlord, a tenant may either file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or the federal court in the jurisdiction where the tenant resides.

If either HUD or a federal court decides the landlord has discriminated against the tenant, the tenant may be eligible for the following remedies:

  • Compensation for actual damages
  • Injunctive relief
  • Equitable relief such as providing alternative housing
  • Reasonable attorney’s fees
  • Payment of civil penalties

When Can a Landlord Discriminate?

In Massachusetts, a landlord can never discriminate against a tenant, except in one instance. The exception is known as the “Mrs. Murphy” exemption.

The “Mrs. Murphy” exemption permits the landlord to discriminate in tenant selection against the Fair Housing Act’s requirements, if a dwelling has four or fewer rental units and the owner lives in one of those units.


There is a blanket ban on a landlord discriminating against the tenant because of race. No matter the “Mrs. Murphy” exemption, a landlord can never discriminate against a tenant because of race.

The “Mrs. Murphy” exemption does not apply to rental advertisements. For example, the owner of the dwelling cannot be discriminatory in their advertisements by saying that people of a certain sexual orientation or race need not apply just because the dwelling itself is exempt from the Fair Housing Act.

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3. Evict Without Cause

In Massachusetts, landlords cannot evict a tenant or force them to vacate the rental premises without legal cause that a tenant violated the lease.

A landlord may have legal grounds for evicting a tenant if the tenant:

  • Does not pay rent on time
  • Stays after the lease ends
  • Violates the lease terms
  • Does not uphold legal responsibilities

Consequences for Landlords Who Evict Tenants Without Cause

Landlords who evict their tenants without legal cause will be liable to the tenant for certain damages. If a court finds the landlord evicted the tenant without cause, the landlord may be liable for:

  • One to three months’ rent
  • Reasonable costs to move to another place
  • Attorney’s fees and costs
  • Injunctive relief

Once a court finds there was no cause for eviction, tenants will be given a Writ of Execution, which will allow them to return into the leased premises.

When Can a Landlord Evict a Tenant?

In Massachusetts, a landlord cannot legally evict a tenant without cause. However, a landlord would be able to evict a tenant on legal grounds such as the tenant not paying rent on time, staying after the lease ends, violating lease terms or not upholding responsibilities under Massachusetts law.

Eviction proceedings include:


Massachusetts law gives a tenant with a pending application for emergency rental assistance the right to delay eviction for nonpayment of rent, until the application is approved or denied.

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4. Increase Rent During the Lease Term

A landlord in Massachusetts cannot raise the rent as often as they want nor increase it by an unreasonable amount during the life of the lease term. A rent increase will be illegal if it is done in any of three instances:

  • Before the expiration of the current lease
  • In a discriminatory way
  • As an act of retaliation

Consequences for Landlords Who Raise Rent

Unless written into the lease, a landlord cannot increase rent prior to the end of the contract. When landlords do raise the rent for the aforementioned reasons, they will be in violation of the lease, and the tenant will be able to terminate the lease. Landlords may also be charged fines and penalties associated with increasing rent.


Before raising the rent, a landlord should ensure that it is done after the lease term has ended. If the proper procedure is outlined in the lease, those procedures should be  followed.

When Can a Landlord Increase the Rent?

A landlord can increase rent at the end of any lease term. A lease is a legally binding contract, and the landlord must abide by the terms, including the set monthly rent. However, there are no control laws in Massachusetts, so any time a lease expires, the landlord can raise the rent as much as they like and allow the tenant the chance to renew at the new rate.

If the lease is for two years, the landlord can only raise the rent every two years, but if it’s a month-to-month lease, they can raise it every 30 days, if they so choose.

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5. Withhold Security Deposits

In Massachusetts, a landlord may not withhold the tenant’s security deposit for any disallowed reason.

For example, a landlord would be unable to withhold the security deposit for property damage incurred from normal wear and tear. Normal wear and tear is deterioration or damage that happens as a result of a tenant living in and using the rental unit in a reasonable manner.

Consequences for Landlords Who Withhold Security Deposits

A landlord who withholds a tenant’s security deposit will be responsible for repaying the tenant the whole security deposit amount. A landlord who illegally withholds a security deposit in Massachusetts must pay the tenant:

  • The original amount of the security deposit
  • Three times the amount of the security deposit
  • Three times the amount of damages plus interest
  • Attorney’s fees

When Can a Landlord Withhold a Tenant’s Security Deposit?

A landlord will be able to withhold a tenant’s security deposit for certain reasons. These reasons include:

  • Damages incurred because of lease breaches
  • Damages not normal wear and tear
  • Unpaid monthly rent
  • Unpaid utilities
  • Cleaning fees at the end of the lease
  • Expenses incurred in securing a new tenant
  • Lease cancellation fees

Should there be any deductions, the landlord must provide an itemized list of deductions that were made within 30 days.

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6. Violate the Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment

Landlords in Massachusetts cannot violate the covenant of quiet enjoyment, which is an implied term in every lease that guarantees the tenant will have quiet and peaceful possession of the leased premises.

There are several ways a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment can be violated. Some common examples of violations include:

  • Entering the tenant’s premises without providing adequate notice
  • Allowing too much noise that interferes with the tenant’s enjoyment of the premises
  • Not taking the necessary precautions to keep the premises safe
  • Allowing the tenant to be harassed by other tenants
  • Locking out the tenant from the premises

A landlord would be in violation of the covenant of quiet enjoyment if they continuously allow a tenant to yell racial slurs at another tenant.

Consequences for Landlords Who Violate the Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment

There are different recourse options that tenants can take when their rights are violated, including but not limited to:

  • Refusing to pay rent
  • Bringing legal action
  • Terminating the lease

Any of these actions would have a negative impact on the landlord. The landlord could also be liable for compensation such as moving expenses, attorney’s fees and other expenses.

When Can a Landlord Violate the Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment?

In Massachusetts, a landlord cannot violate the covenant of quiet enjoyment under any circumstances.

However, actions that seem to violate the covenant of quiet enjoyment may be legal in certain circumstances. For example, a landlord may enter the premises without providing notice to the tenant, in the event of an emergency.


A landlord enters into a tenant’s premises because there is evidence of flooding.

7. Violate the Warranty of Habitability

In Massachusetts, landlords must uphold the implied warranty of habitability, which is guaranteed in leases and ensures that the leased premises meet habitability requirements.

There are several ways a landlord may violate the warranty of habitability. Some common examples of violations include:

  • Broken locks
  • Lack of proper plumbing
  • Lack of utilities such as heat, electricity, and water
  • Failure to exterminate a rodent infestation

A landlord violates the warranty of habitability, if, after notice of breaking, they do not repair the heating system in the winter.

Consequences for Landlords Who Violate the Warranty of Habitability

When a landlord violates the warranty of habitability, a tenant is entitled to relief such as:

  • A court order directing the landlord to repair the condition
  • A court order reducing the tenant’s rent
  • A judgment for one months’ rent plus $500
  • A judgment for actual damages
  • Any court and attorneys’ fees

When Can a Landlord Violate the Warranty of Habitability?

Landlords in Massachusetts cannot violate the warranty of habitability at any time.

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8. Commit Constructive Eviction

A landlord in Massachusetts cannot constructively evict tenants from the leased premises.

Constructive eviction is a circumstance where a tenant’s use of the property is so significantly impeded by actions under the landlord’s authority that the tenant has no alternative but to vacate the premises.

Examples of constructive eviction include:

  • Failure to provide heating during the cold season
  • Failure to rid of a pest infestation
  • Making the property uninhabitable
  • Violating the quiet enjoyment for tenants

Consequences for Landlords Who Constructively Evict Tenants

Landlords who evict their tenants without just cause will be liable to the tenant for certain damages. If a court finds the landlord evicted the tenant without cause, the landlord may be liable for:

  • One months’ rent plus $500
  • Reasonable costs to move to another place
  • Attorney’s fees and costs
  • Injunctive relief

Once a court finds there was no cause for eviction, tenants will be given a Writ of Execution, which will allow them to return into the leased premises.

When Can a Landlord Constructively Evict a Tenant?

In Massachusetts, a landlord cannot withhold services or force out a tenant through constructive eviction.

Although, if a tenant has violated the lease terms, then the landlord can perform actions that are generally associated with constructive eviction. These actions can include:

  • Terminating the lease
  • Shutting off utilities
  • Failing to repair issues

After lease termination, landlords are not contractually obligated to provide the mandatory services outlined in the lease.

9. Defraud Tenants

When landlords communicate with tenants, they cannot make any statements under false pretenses, which may lead the tenant to believe something that is not true.

There are many ways in which a landlord can commit fraud, including: 

  • Making a false or misleading oral or written statement 
  • Representing that the property has a characteristic or use that it does not have
  • Representing that the property is of a particular standard, quality, or style that it is not
  • Failing to state a material fact if the failure deceives or tends to deceive
  • Putting a clause in a lease that waives the tenant’s right to use a legal defense


A landlord may not notify a prospective tenant that the rental premises are safe, while being aware the locks are broken and there have been recent break-ins.


Consequences for Landlords Who Defraud Tenants

Landlords who defraud current and prospective tenants may face litigation. Depending on the court, the tenant may be entitled to:

  • Economic damages
  • Statutory fraud damages
  • Exemplary damages
  • Mental anguish damages
  • Attorney’s fees
  • Equitable relief
  • Declaratory judgment

When Can a Landlord Defraud Tenants?

In Massachusetts, landlords cannot defraud tenants under any circumstance.

10. Fail to Pass State Inspections

Prior to renting out leased premises, landlords must register the rental premises with the proper authorities. Landlords must then conduct a proper inspection so that the premises are in a habitable condition for the tenant.

Consequences for Landlords Failing to Pass State Inspections

Failure to register the premises and conduct an inspection may lead to fines and other taxes.

When Can a Landlord Fail to Pass State Inspections?

Landlords must always pass state inspections to lease out the rental property.

11. Charge Application Fees

In Massachusetts, a landlord cannot charge an application fee when a tenant decides to apply for a rental. There are only a few things a landlord may charge for such as:

  • Rent for the full month of occupancy
  • Rent for the last month of occupancy
  • The security deposit
  • Fees to purchase and install a security lock

Consequences for Landlords for Charging an Application Fee

When a landlord charges an application fee in Massachusetts, they may be liable to the tenant a certain number of months’ of rent. Furthermore, the tenant would not have to follow through with renting the premises.

When Can a Landlord Charge an Application Fee?

Although landlords in Massachusetts are unable to charge an application fee, a landlord may be able to refuse to rent the apartment to the tenant if they refuse to pay a fee for the background check.

Can a Landlord Deny Sublessees or Assignees?

Unless prior written consent has already been granted, a landlord can prohibit a tenant from subletting in Massachusetts. A landlord reserves the right to deny any and all future requests from a tenant to sublease. However, a landlord cannot deny a qualified sublessee or assignee.

A qualified sublessee or assignee is one that:

  • Has the financial ability to continue paying the rent
  • Passes the background check
  • Is a high character individual who will not cause the landlord trouble

Consequences for Landlords Who Deny Qualified Sublessees or Assignees

When a landlord denies a qualified subtenant or assignee, the original tenant may sue the landlord for damages. A tenant may be able to recover money equivalent to the amount of monthly rent for which the landlord disallowed the prospective subtenant or assignee from making payments.

Furthermore, damages associated with the landlord’s failure to mitigate damages may be possible. The duty to mitigate damages exists where the landlord must take reasonable steps to re-rent the unit to a replacement tenant.

When Can a Landlord Deny a Sublessee or Assignee?

A landlord can deny a sublessee when:

  • The landlord has a good faith belief that the new tenant would not meet the financial obligations under the lease
  • There needs to be an alteration to the premises for the use of the new tenant
  • There would be an increase in the number of persons residing in the dwelling
  • The landlord has a good faith belief of the new tenant’s inappropriate conduct
  • The new tenant refuses to sign and comply with the lease

Can a Landlord Charge Unlimited Amounts for the Security Deposit?

In Massachusetts, a landlord can charge an unlimited amount for the security deposit. There are no rent control laws capping the security deposit amount. However, landlords are expected to charge only a reasonable amount for the security deposit.

Generally, a reasonable amount for a Massachusetts security deposit could be two times the amount of rent. So, if the monthly rent is $1,000, a landlord could require the tenant to pay $2,000 as a security deposit.

Can a Landlord Deduct Expenses From the Security Deposit?

Landlords in Massachusetts can deduct expenses from the security deposit.

A landlord will be able to withhold a tenant’s security deposit for certain reasons. These reasons include:

  • Any costs associated with damages incurred because of lease breaches
  • Any costs associated with property damages not normal wear and tear
  • Unpaid monthly rent
  • Unpaid utilities
  • Cleaning fees at the end of the lease
  • Expenses incurred in securing a new tenant
  • Whatever cancellation fee the lease may be provided for

Can a Landlord Sue a Tenant for Lease Violations?

In Massachusetts, a landlord can sue a tenant for violating the lease. Common lease violations include:

  • Illegal activity
  • Unauthorized pets
  • Disturbing other tenants
  • Not keeping the premises clean

Landlords can recover damages such as unpaid rent, costs of property damage the tenant caused and eviction of the tenant.

Can a Landlord Enter into a Tenant’s Premises During an Emergency?

A landlord can enter into a tenant’s premises when there is an emergency.

By default, a landlord must provide 48 hours of advance notice before entering a rented apartment to make (or assess for) most inspections, repairs, and other similar purposes. 

In the event of an emergency, such as a fire, burst water pipe, or gas leak, landlords have the right to enter without notice. They may also enter the premises with a court order, or when a tenant has moved out without notice.

Can a Landlord Conduct a Background Check on Prospective Tenants?

A landlord in Massachusetts can conduct a background check on prospective tenants. In Massachusetts, landlords must make available to the applicant, printed notice of the landlord’s tenant selection criteria, including:

  • Criminal history
  • Previous rental history
  • Current income
  • Credit history

In Massachusetts, there are usually costs associated with background checks.

Can a Landlord Charge Late Fees for Late Rent?

In Massachusetts, a landlord can charge late fees for late rent. Although, A landlord cannot charge late fees or penalties for rent paid past the due date unless it is paid 30 days or more past the due date. Furthermore, it is illegal for a landlord to charge a reverse penalty—reducing rent by a percentage if paid within a certain time frame.

If a late fee is charged, the following must be met:

  1. Notice of the fee is included in the written lease
  2. The fee is reasonable

Can a Landlord Set Occupancy Limits?

Massachusetts law requires that landlords set occupancy limits depending on the type of property the landlord owns.

Generally, the maximum number of adults that a landlord may allow to occupy a dwelling is three times the number of bedrooms in the premises. There are certain exceptions allowing a higher occupancy limit such as state or federal laws that allow a higher occupancy rate or if an adult is seeking temporary sanctuary from family violence.

Can a Landlord Require Certain Forms of Payment?

A landlord in Massachusetts can require certain forms of payment.

Massachusetts law does not say how a tenant must pay their rent. It does not discuss rules a landlord might impose that would make tenants pay a specific way, like online or with a money order. How a tenant must pay the rent will depend on the specific lease.

Massachusetts law ensures that landlords will provide the option for tenants to pay in cash, unless the lease states otherwise. When a tenant pays in cash, a landlord must provide a written receipt confirming payment.