Frequently Asked Questions by Massachusetts Tenants

Frequently Asked Questions by Massachusetts Tenants Answered by a North Shore Housing Attorney*

Can my landlord ask for a pet deposit if he is already asking for first month’s rent, last month’s rent, and security deposit?

Under Mass. General Laws, ch.186, §15B, a landlord can only collect: first month’s rent; last month’s rent; a security deposit that does not exceed one month’s rent; and a charge for new keys and locks. Although the statute does not specifically allow for a pet deposit in name, landlord may, and often does, factor in a pet deposit in as part of a security deposit. If the security deposit is greater than one months rent, you may have a legal issue worthy of talking to a lawyer.

My landlord insists on monthly inspections of the premises, it’s in my lease, but can he do this?

By law a landlord is permitted reasonable access to the premises for maintenance, inspection, to show the property during the last thirty (30) days of a tenancy, or to determine if the premises are abandoned. A true emergency is the only time a landlord can enter without notice. A tenant’s right to live in quiet enjoyment of the premises counter balances the landlord’s right of access.

A landlord cannot engage in conduct that diminishes the nature, value or character of your apartment. The law requires landlords to act reasonably. Generally, reasonable means notice of twenty-four (24) to forty-eight (48) hours -done with a reasonable purpose in mind- and conducted in a reasonable manner. Tenants have the right to live peaceably. If your landlord insists on entering your apartment in a way you do not feel comfortable with, you should consider contacting a lawyer.

In the winter time, I have noticed mice and rodents in my apartment. In the summer time, I have trouble with insects and bugs in my apartment and my landlord refuses to do anything about it. What should I do?

By law, when a landlord accepts rents he or she implicitly promises that the apartment will be free of conditions that endanger the health, safety or well-being of the occupants. By allowing these conditions to exist, or failing to remedy these conditions, a landlord violates what is known as the implied warranty of habitability. Options in this case depend on the nature and severity of the conditions. It is wise to put all communications with the landlord in writing or confirmed in a follow-up writing so that communications are documented and memorialized. If you make a landlord aware of the issue, and he or she fails to take reasonable steps to remedy the condition of the apartment, a tenants options can include: the local Board of Health; rent withholding; or going to court and getting a court order in the form of a restraining order or injunction; as well as other options. If you find yourself in this situation it is essential that you talk to an experienced attorney who will listen to your case, your concerns and lay out your options.

When I moved out, my landlord said he was keeping the security deposit because he had to paint the walls and clean the carpets. Can he do that? Is it even worth fighting?

A security deposit is your money until it is earned or authorized to be given to the landlord. A landlord must pay a tenant interest on a security deposit. The rate should be the actual rate paid by the bank where the money is kept or 5% per year. Within thirty days of the end of a tenancy, the landlord must supply you with an itemized written statement of condition of the apartment. A landlord can only deduct for rents owed or for damage beyond that of reasonable wear and tear. Every case is different and each is dependent upon its unique set of facts and circumstances. However, a landlord that violates the security deposit law can find himself or herself facing some rather stiff penalties. If you have questions about your security deposit and whether it is being handled appropriately contact an attorney knowledgeable in this area. A security deposit is your money until it is earned, and the law recognizes that.

Does it cost too much to hire a tenant side housing attorney?

Absolutely not! In some situations, where landlords have violated the law , courts will award reasonable attorney fees and attorneys may take the case on a contingent fee basis. Do not be afraid to contact an attorney!

Can a tenant break a lease early? Will the tenant be responsible for the remainder of the rent for the remainder of the lease?

It depends. Bare in mind that when you enter into a lease, you are entering into a contract and unless those provisions are unfair, or unlawful they are likely to be enforced. Under certain circumstances, a landlord can do what is called “liquidating the rent.” This involves calling due the remainder of the rent that would otherwise have been paid had the term of the tenancy played out. The law requires a landlord to mitigate damages. In other words, the landlord is required to take steps to fill the apartment. Whether you could be responsible for all or part of the liquidated rent is dependent on the circumstances. If you find yourself in this situation, asking what your options are, call an experienced attorney that can advise you and possibly negotiate down or out your obligation.

What is a notice to quit?

A notice to quit is the first step in the eviction process in Massachusetts. If you have received a notice to quit, you have a legal problem and should consider contacting an attorney.

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