Landlord-Tenant FAQs

Though it depends on the particular facts of your situation, your prospective landlord probably cannot charge you an application fee. A rental agent may be able to charge you a “finders” fee if they are a licensed real estate agent, though they must comply with other requirements of the law, including giving you written notice that they are a licensed real estate agent along with their license number. If you have been charged an application or a “finders” fee, please submit an intake form to request services from SLSO.

You have a tenancy with a lease. In this type of tenancy there is a written agreement that sets the conditions of the tenancy, including a specific start and end date for the tenancy and the amount of rent you will pay.

If you have not signed a lease, but are moving in with the landlord’s permission, you have a tenancy at will. This kind of tenancy sometimes has a written rental agreement, but it can also be a verbal agreement. The feature that distinguishes a written rental agreement from a lease is that it doesn’t have a specific start and end date for the tenancy. The most common type of tenancy at will is a “month to month” tenancy. This means that there is no set end date for your tenancy and it can therefore be terminated by either you or your landlord with a proper full rental period notice (referred to as a 30-day notice).

If you have stayed at the rental after the expiration of your lease, or after your landlord has served you with a proper full rental period notice ending your tenancy at will, you are a tenant at sufferance. If you believe you are a tenant at sufferance, please submit an intake form to request services from SLSO.

Regardless of the kind of tenancy you have, a court order is required before a landlord can forcibly remove you and your belongings from the rental.

When you sign a lease and agree to “joint and several liability,” you are agreeing that you are each fully responsible for the full amount of the rent, for fulfilling all conditions of the lease, and for any damages to the rental. What this means practically is that if one of your housemates decides to move out in the middle of the year without finding a replacement tenant, your landlord can still require that you pay the full rental amount, not just the portion that was agreed upon between you and your housemates. Also, if you decide to break your lease early and a court finds you did not have a valid reason to do so, your landlord can seek to recoup the money for the rest of the lease term from either one or all of you. This also means that if there is damage to the rental, the landlord can hold you all responsible, even if only one of your housemates caused the damage.

If you are considering signing a lease with housemate, it is important to fill out a Housemate Agreement outlining your rights and responsibilities with respect to your housemates.    

By law, at the beginning of your tenancy, your landlord can only charge you:

  1. Rent for the first month;
  2. Rent for the last month;
  3. A security deposit equivalent to one month’s rent; and
  4. The actual cost of purchasing and installing a door lock and key.

If you have been charged more than this, including being charged a key fee, an application fee, or a pet fee, please submit an intake form to request services from SLSO.

When your landlord takes your security deposit, the law requires that they give you a written receipt.  The law further requires that, within 30 days of receiving the deposit, your landlord place the security deposit in an appropriately designated escrow account which is both within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and outside the reach of the landlord’s creditors. Your landlord must then give you a second receipt showing the amount of the deposit, your landlord’s name, the address of the premises, and the name of the bank and the account number where it is being held.

Within ten days of accepting the security deposit or your taking possession of the property, whichever is later, your landlord must provide to you a document called a “statement of condition.” The statement of condition must be signed by your landlord and list all damage existing in the rental unit. If your landlord does not give you such a form, you should fill one out anyway and return it to the landlord within the first few weeks of your tenancy.

If your landlord failed to handle your security deposit properly, you may be entitled to the immediate return of your deposit. If you believe your landlord has mishandled your deposit, please submit an intake form to request services from SLSO.

Depending on the circumstances, your landlord may be required to provide you with a different place to live until the rental is ready to move into. They may also be required to return the rent that you paid for the first month of your tenancy. If you are in this situation, please submit an intake form to request services from SLSO.

First, write to your landlord and tell them, in detail, about the bad conditions. Then give them a reasonable amount of time to respond to you and make the necessary repairs. If your landlord refuses or fails to make repairs in a timely way, one option is to call or drop by the Board of Health for your town and ask them to inspect the apartment.  The health and/or building inspector with then inspect your rental and issue a report directly to your landlord, ordering that repairs be made by a certain date. If your landlord still fails to make repairs, they may be fined by the town.

If your landlord is refusing or failing to make repairs in your rental, please submit an intake form to request services from SLSO.

No. In every residential tenancy there is an “implied warranty of habitability.” This means that your landlord promises that the rental will, at the very least, be in compliance with the State Sanitary Code. This is a right which you cannot waive. This means that even if you signed a lease with this clause, your landlord is still responsible for making repairs. If you signed a lease saying that you accept the rental “as is” and your landlord is refusing to make repairs, please submit an intake form to request services from SLSO.

There are a number of ways to force your landlord to make repairs quickly in emergency situations. If you are without one of the basic necessities (water, heat, gas, electric) as a result of your landlord’s actions (or inactions), please submit an intake form to request services from SLSO.

It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to provide and pay for water. However, there are exceptions to this rule. Massachusetts law allows a landlord to charge for water if certain conditions are met, including entering into a written agreement with the tenant regarding payment, and installing submetering equipment and also water conservation devices for all faucets, showerheads, and toilets in the rental. The requirements of this law must be strictly observed.

Don’t assume your landlord has taken the proper steps before charging you for water. If your landlord has been charging you for water illegally, you may be entitled to damages. If you have questions about paying for water, please submit an intake form to request services from SLSO.

It depends. Your landlord may require that you pay for common area lighting, but only if (1) the building contains fewer than four units; (2) you have signed an agreement with your landlord saying that you will pay for electric, to which the common area lighting is wired; and (3) your landlord informs the occupants of the other units that you are paying for the lights in the common area.

If you have questions about paying for common area lighting, please submit an intake form to request services from SLSO.

Unless there are separate meters for each rental unit and a written rental agreement between you and your landlord saying you will pay for water, hot water, heating fuel, electricity or gas, they are required to provide and pay for these essential utilitiesIf you are paying for any of these utilities and they are 1) not separately metered, or 2) you have not agreed to it in writing, please submit an intake form to request services from SLSO.

The type of tenancy you have may determine whether or not your landlord can raise your rent, though regardless of the type of tenancy, your landlord must follow very specific steps when attempting to raise your rent. In general, if you have a written lease, the landlord cannot raise the rent during the lease term.  If you are a tenant at will, however, the landlord can terminate your tenancy by giving you a proper full rental period notice to quit and offering you a new tenancy at the increased rental price. Note that even if your landlord does not do this correctly, but you pay the new rent amount, you may be considered to have accepted the new rental rate. 

If your landlord is attempting to raise your rent, please submit an intake form to request services from SLSO.

No. Your landlord cannot charge you a late fee unless your rent is over 30 days late.  They also cannot lock you out of your rental without a court order if you have not paid your rent. This is generally called a “self-help” eviction and is illegal in Massachusetts.

If you are locked out, your landlord is threatening to lock you out, or you have been charged a fee for paying your rent less than 30 days late, please submit an intake form to request services from SLSO.

It depends. The answer is generally no; your landlord needs to give you proper notice (usually at least 24 hours in advance) before entering your rental.  However, in emergencies (e.g., busted pipes) your landlord can enter without your permission.

You are required by law to give your landlord, his agents, and his employees “reasonable access,” to make repairs to the rental. Your lease may also require you to allow the landlord, his agents, and his employees to enter to inspect the premises and/or show the property to a prospective tenant, purchaser, mortgagee, or their agents before your lease ends. Your landlord also has the right to inspect the rental within the last thirty (30) days of your tenancy or after either of you has given notice of an intention to terminate the tenancy.  

Where your landlord has the right to enter, reasonable notice must be given to you that an entry will be made at a specific and reasonable time.  If your landlord gives reasonable notice and has the right to enter, but you unreasonably refuse to grant them access, they can ask the court to order you to let them into the rental.

If your landlord has entered your apartment without notice or permission, please submit an intake form to request services from SLSO.

A lease is a contract and is thus not usually easily broken. By signing the lease, you contracted with the landlord to live in the house. There are circumstances where a tenant may have good cause to break a lease.  If you need to break your lease, please submit an intake form to request services from SLSO.

Yes. Your landlord must pay you interest on your last month’s rent at the rate of 5% per year or other such lesser amount of interest as has been received from the bank where the deposit has been held. This interest should be paid to you annually, unless your tenancy is terminated early, in which case you should receive all accrued interest within thirty days of the termination. At the end of each year of your tenancy, your landlord should give you a statement indicating the amount of interest accrued.  Your landlord can either give you the money or notify you that you can deduct the amount of the interest from your next rental payment. Interest does not accrue for the last month for which you paid rent in advance. If after thirty days from the end of each year of your tenancy, you have not received interest that was due to you or a notice telling you that you could deduct the interest from your next rental payment, you can deduct the interest from your next rental payment.

If your landlord doesn’t pay you the interest accrued on your last month’s rent within thirty days after the end of your tenancy, you may be able to file a claim against your landlord and recover damages in an amount equal to three times the amount of interest you were supposed to receive, along with your court costs and attorney’s fees.

It depends. Your landlord must pay you interest on your security deposit if he holds it for one year or longer from the beginning of your tenancy. Your landlord must pay you interest at a rate of 5% per year, or other such lesser amount of interest he has received from the bank where the deposit was held. This interest must be paid to you annually, unless your tenancy is terminated early, in which case you should receive all accrued interest within 30 days of the end of your tenancy.

At the end of each year of your tenancy, your landlord must give you a statement indicating the name and address of the bank where your security deposit is being held, the amount of the deposit, the account number, and the amount of interest payable by your landlord to you. At that time your landlord can either give you the money or notify you that you can deduct the amount of the interest from your next rental payment. If after thirty days from the end of each year of your tenancy, you have not received interest that was due to you or a notice telling you that you could deduct the interest from your next rental payment, you can deduct the interest from your next rental payment.

The law requires that a landlord treat your security deposit with great care, an obligation that begins at the inception of your tenancy.  

If your landlord wants to deduct money from your security deposit at the end of your tenancy, they can only do so for any unpaid rent or water charges which have not been validly withheld by you, any unpaid increase in real estate taxes that you have agreed to pay, and a reasonable amount necessary to repair any damage you or your guests caused to the rental. They cannot deduct for “reasonable wear and tear.” In the event the landlord does deduct money from your deposit, they must comply with multiple requirements, including giving you an itemized list of deductions, along with receipts, estimates, or invoices for the cost of repairs.

If your landlord has deducted money from your security deposit, or is refusing to give it back entirely, please submit an intake form to request services from SLSO.

Subscribe to Landlord-Tenant FAQs