A Massachusetts rental application form helps a landlord choose a prospective tenant who is well suited to rent a particular property. The form requests personal and employment information plus consent for a credit check (sometimes called a consumer report). Applications often collect a non-refundable fee, commonly equal to the cost of getting the relevant screening reports.
Massachusetts Rental Application Laws
In Massachusetts, it is illegal for a landlord to charge ANY amount as a rental application fee. However, real estate agents or brokers may charge application fees to a potential tenant if they provide written notice outlining the amount of the fee, how it should be paid, when due, and whether refundable. The notice must also contain the agent’s license number plus the date, and signatures from both parties.
Quick Guide To Process a Massachusetts Rental Application
After receiving a Massachusetts rental application, most landlords use the following process to evaluate the potential tenant:
- Verify Credit – Order a credit report for the potential tenant; a score of 600-650 is a common minimum requirement. A credit report can be as simple as a “pass/fail” result or can have comprehensive details, including criminal history. (NOTE: a credit report requires the tenant’s written and signed consent, on the application or separately)
- Verify Income – Check the potential tenant’s employment status and pay scale. This can be done through recent pay stubs and/or contacting the potential tenant’s employer.
- Check Rental History – Contact previous landlord(s) to confirm a potential tenant has in the past been a good renter and neighbor.
- Check Eviction History – Verify the potential tenant has honestly disclosed the details of any past evictions. An eviction check usually covers a longer period (previous 7 years) than a rental history check (previous 3 years).
- Check Criminal History – Confirm the potential tenant’s reporting of any criminal history, especially including a check of criminal databases like sex offender registries.
- Provide a Response – Approve the application if it’s a good fit, or, if rejecting the application, draft an appropriate adverse action notice to limit liability.
Checking Eviction History in Massachusetts
Massachusetts eviction cases are matters of public record which anyone can access. While third-party services often automatically check eviction history as part of a screening report, this also can be checked manually, with the following process:
- Go to the Massachusetts eAccess website
- Under the dropdown menu for Court Department, select “Housing Court”
- Under the dropdown menu for the Court Division, select one of the six housing court divisions
- Conduct a search using the tenant’s name and date of birth
Read more about searching Massachusetts court dockets here.
Restrictions on Massachusetts Rental Application Questions
The sample rental application provided on this page complies with federal law restricting the information a landlord can request. In general, it’s illegal under the Federal Fair Housing Act to screen tenants by asking for information about the following, or using these as a basis for approving or denying an application:
- National origin (nationality)
- Sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity)
- Familial status (i.e., having or not having children)
- Disability (whether physical or mental)
Massachusetts also protects a number of different categories at the state level, including age, childbearing status, marital status, military status, and rental/public assistance status. There are narrow exemptions for things like senior housing or certain very-small scale landlords, but local regulations may still apply. Always consult an attorney before attempting to ignore state or federal requirements.
Disclosure on Massachusetts Right to Withhold Criminal Information
Massachusetts allows rental applicants to withhold certain information about prior arrests or convictions. Rental applications must contain the following language giving notice of this right:
“An applicant for employment or for housing or an occupational or professional license with a sealed record on file with the commissioner of probation may answer ‘no record’ with respect to an inquiry herein relative to prior arrests, criminal court appearances or convictions. An applicant for employment or for housing or an occupational or professional license with a sealed record on file with the commissioner of probation may answer ‘no record’ to an inquiry herein relative to prior arrests or criminal court appearances. In addition, any applicant for employment or for housing or an occupational or professional license may answer ‘no record’ with respect to any inquiry relative to prior arrests, court appearances and adjudications in all cases of delinquency or as a child in need of services which did not result in a complaint transferred to the superior court for criminal prosecution.”
Rejecting an Application: Adverse Action Notice
When taking an action which may disadvantage a potential tenant, a landlord may have to provide an adverse action notice informing the tenant about the decision (sometimes called a “conditional approval,” if the application is approved subject to meeting additional conditions). Federal regulations require an adverse action notice whenever a landlord collects a credit report and takes one of the following actions:
- Rejecting the potential tenant’s application
- Adding a requirement for someone to co-sign the potential tenant’s lease
- Demanding a larger security deposit than before, as a condition for renting
- Asking for higher rent after receiving the report
Important Features of an Adverse Action Notice
An adverse action notice must contain the following details:
- Note that the landlord took adverse action based on information in a consumer credit report
- Details of the consumer reporting agency
- Note that the landlord decided the adverse action, not the agency
- Declaration of the applicant’s right to a copy of the consumer credit report
- Declaration of the application’s right to dispute the report within 60 calendar days
While not legally required, it also is expedient for a landlord to explain the reasons for the adverse action, since this establishes a written record of issues with the application.
For an example, see this tenant rejection letter template.
Fees in Massachusetts
Massachusetts has the following regulations on fees relating to a new rental:
- Rental Application Limit: No cap, but can only be charged by a licensed real estate agent or broker
- Security Deposit Limit: One month’s rent
- Pet Fee Limit: No cap
Local jurisdictions may impose stricter regulations than the statewide standard. Always check local laws.