With mortgage rates currently sitting at a record high in Massachusetts, more people than ever before are considering renting a property rather than buying. This is great news for the state's landlords, who are experiencing higher demand for units based on previous years. This has pushed up Massachusetts's median monthly residential rent to $3,200, which is $1,050 more than the national median.
If you're thinking about renting out your property, it's vital to be fully aware of the landlord-tenant laws in Massachusetts to protect both your property, your tenant, and your peace of mind!
Is Massachusetts considered a Landlord-Friendly State?
This state does not enforce rent control policies, although there are several restrictions regarding fees landlords can charge, which we’ll go into below. Generally, Massachusetts is considered to be a fairly landlord-friendly state.
The Landlord's Responsibilities
According to the landlord-tenant laws in Massachusetts, a landlord's obligations are:
- To provide a property that is clean, safe, and compliant with the Massachusetts Sanitary Code.
- To abide by the agreed-upon terms and conditions of the rental agreement.
- To not increase the specified rent for the duration of the tenancy agreement.
If a tenant makes the landlord aware of a maintenance issue and submits a request for this issue to be resolved, the landlord has five days to either begin work to remedy the situation or instruct a contractor to address the problem. The rental laws in Massachusetts stipulate that the landlord must complete the requested work within fourteen days.
There is no provision in Massachusetts law regarding a requirement for the landlord to give notice to gain access to the property. However, in most cases, both parties are happy for a clause to be inserted in the rental agreement stating that the landlord needs to give the tenant twenty-four hours' notice before entering the property to, for example, undertake repairs.
The Tenant's Responsibilities
Under Massachusetts' rental laws, the tenant is also bound by certain responsibilities regarding their tenancy. These are:
- To abide by all the terms and conditions of the lease.
- To pay the agreed-upon rent on the agreed-upon dates.
- To accept responsibility for any damage caused to the property beyond reasonable wear and tear.
- To not disturb neighbors or other tenants.
- To undertake maintenance jobs and small repairs as necessary.
- To not end the tenancy early unless the landlord agrees to this.
Rent and Payment Laws
There are no rent control laws in Massachusetts (apart from in the city of Boston - more on this below), so landlords are free to charge whatever rent they deem fair. However, it's important to note that, under state law, only the following payments up-front may be requested:
- The rent payment to cover the first month of the tenancy.
- A security deposit - although this may be no more than an amount equal to a month's rent.
- The last month's rent.
- The cost of a new lock and key for the property.
Landlords in Massachusetts are prohibited from charging application or screening fees relating to potential tenants or levying any additional charges apart from those listed above.
The landlord-tenant laws in Massachusetts are fairly strict regarding security deposits. Landlords must place security deposits in a Massachusetts bank account that collects interest within the first month of the tenancy. The landlord must also provide the tenant with the name and address of the bank where the funds have been deposited and the account number and give the tenant a receipt for this money.
Every year, the landlord must either pay the tenant the amount of interest that has accrued from this security deposit or allow the tenant to deduct the amount from their next rent payment.
At the end of the tenancy, the landlord has thirty days to return the security deposit to the tenant with interest.
The landlord may only keep the security deposit, or part of it, to offset unpaid rent or to cover damages to the property that goes beyond reasonable wear and tear. The landlord is also permitted to deduct from the security deposit the tenant's share of increases (where present) in the landlord's property taxes, although only where there is provision for this in the
Rental laws in Massachusetts allow landlords to charge late fees if their tenant is late paying the rent - but there are some important caveats to be aware of.
Firstly, the ability to levy late fees must be mentioned in the rental agreement if they are to be legally deployed. Secondly, a rent payment can only be considered late once it is thirty days overdue. Eviction can only be pursued when the rent is officially one day overdue - in real terms when it’s thirty-one days late.
Evicting Tenants & Rental agreements
A landlord can serve their tenant with an eviction notice if any of the following incidents have occurred:
- Non-payment of rent on time.
- The tenant has breached the lease terms.
- The tenant has engaged in illegal activity.
If the tenant does not vacate the property, then the landlord's next step is to file a summary process in court. If the judgment is found in the landlord's favor, then the tenant will be legally obliged to leave the property, taking with them all their possessions and supplied by the court with the date they must do so.
Is a Written Rental Agreement Required?
The landlord-tenant laws in Massachusetts allow for both oral and written rental agreements. However, having a written rental agreement in place is highly recommended to protect the interests of both parties.
Written rental agreements must contain the following information:
- The landlord and tenant' (s) contact information.
- The amount of any security deposit being taken and the landlord's obligations in respect of these funds.
- A statement that summarizes the current condition of the property.
- The rent price and information on late fees payable.
- The duration of the lease.
Once both landlord and tenant have signed the rental agreement, the landlord has thirty days to provide the tenant with an executed copy.
Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act of Massachusetts protects tenants in the state from discrimination based on, for example, their color, race, religion, sex, sexuality, or gender identity. In summary, it legally requires landlords to treat their tenants fairly and equally regarding every aspect of the tenancy, from initial screening to eviction processes.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HuD) enforces the Fair Housing Act on a federal level, and although individual state laws can enhance the protections the Act provides, they can't reduce them.
Massachusetts renting laws don't prohibit allowing pets in rental properties, and so, as a landlord, whether or not you wish to accept tenants with pets is entirely your choice. However, it's important to be aware that while landlords are allowed to have an additional clause in the rental agreement specifying an amount payable for pet rent, they're not permitted to levy a one-time charge, at the start of the tenancy, for example, as a fee for allowing pets in the property.
Pet rent cannot be levied in the cases of service or emotional support animals.
Unique State / City Laws in Massachusetts
Landlords in Massachusetts must comply with the State Sanitary Code, which ensures that all properties rented out are clean and safe. If the landlord doesn't carry out the proper maintenance, then the property will likely receive an inspection visit from the state's Health and Safety board.
Landlords with properties in Boston will be subject to a slightly different set of regulations, as this city has its own municipal code. The Rent Equity Board is an important element of the code, as it sets the maximum rent price that a landlord can charge.
In Massachusetts, a landlord must legally disclose to the tenant the following things before the lease is signed:
- The location of the security deposit.
- Whether there is any lead paint present on the property.
- The contact information of all relevant parties.
- The details of the property's insurance provider.
Landlord-tenant laws in Massachusetts also make particular provisions for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, discrimination, or harassment. Under these laws, the tenant may terminate their lease early, although they must provide evidence relating to their claims.
The onus is on the landlord to provide a safe, secure environment for their tenant, and so, concerning the above, if a tenant requests that the property's locks be changed, this should be undertaken.
What's a Tenancy-at-Will Agreement?
Above, we've discussed tenancies undertaken on a lease basis. An alternative form of renting in Massachusetts is on a tenancy-at-will basis, which allows the landlord and tenant to continue with the arrangement for as long as both parties are happy to do so.
Written agreements may or may not be used for a tenancy-at-will arrangement; where one is in place, it should include details such as the amount payable monthly as rent and some basic rules regarding the tenancy.
In this type of agreement, the landlord may raise the rent, but they will need to provide their tenant with thirty days' notice to do so. Similarly, if the landlord wishes to end the agreement, a notice period of thirty days must be given.
Protect Yourself with Landlord Insurance
It's important to be aware that, as a landlord, your standard homeowner's insurance won't cover your renting activities and risks relating to these. Taking out landlord insurance customized for Massachusetts, which is specifically designed to provide cover for those renting out properties, can protect both your property and indemnify you in the event of someone injuring themselves on it. Plus, it can even cover your business income if your rental property becomes temporarily uninhabitable.
When choosing landlord insurance, look for a company that can provide you with a one-stop-shop solution that'll seal up any coverage gaps and protect your property from a range of unforeseen eventualities.