Massachusetts' Landlord Tenant Law

5 Important Rights of Landlords and Tenants

Picture of Massachusetts' Landlord Tenant Law
Massachusetts' Landlord Tenant Law. valentinrussanov/E+/Getty Images

If you are a landlord or tenant in the state of Massachusetts, you need to become familiar with the landlord tenant law. There are certain rights that are protected under the law and certain rules that both parties must follow. Here are five categories the state wants landlords and tenants to understand.

1. The Right to Fair Housing in Massachusetts

Ch. 151b., Sec. 4

Protected Classes:

Under the Federal Fair Housing Law, and also under Massachusetts’ Fair Housing Law, every tenant is granted the right to have an equal opportunity in any housing related activity.

Combined, these two laws protect fourteen classes of people: 

Protected Activities:

Activities which are protected by both the Federal Fair Housing Law and by Massachusetts own Fair Housing Law include:

  • The right to obtain a loan or any other type of financing, or a surety bond, without being asked discriminatory questions about being a part of any of the fourteen classes protected in Massachusetts. There are exceptions to this, such as a bank’s right to ask a person’s age to determine if he or she is old enough to obtain a loan.
  • The right to rent or buy a property without fear of being denied based only on the fact that he or she is a member of one of the protected classes.
  • The right of disabled individuals to have reasonable accommodations made to their rental units.
  • That it is illegal for a landlord, a landlord’s agent, or any other individual responsible for renting out property to ask about a prospective tenant’s membership in any of the fourteen protected classes. There are exceptions to this, such as asking an individual’s age in a community where you must be over 55 to live there.
  • That it is illegal to post rental ads which discriminate against any protected class. For example, saying that families with children under 18 should not apply.
  • It is illegal for an issuer of credit to discriminate against an individual because he or she receives government assistance.
  • It is illegal to intimidate or harass an individual in an attempt to prevent the individual from moving into housing or to get an individual already living in the housing to move because he or she is a member of a certain class.
  • It is illegal to lie in a rental ad in an attempt to prevent certain classes from renting the property.

Fair Housing Violations:

If a Massachusetts’ tenant or prospective tenant believes his or her right to equal opportunity housing has been violated, he or she can file a claim with HUD. HUD will investigate the claim and decide if further action is needed.

2. Security Deposit Rights in Massachusetts

Ch. 186, Sec 15b.

Landlords and tenants in the state of Massachusetts must follow certain rules for their security deposits.

Maximum Amount of Deposit:

Massachusetts sets a limit on how much a landlord can collect from a tenant as a security deposit.. A landlord cannot ask for more than one month’s rent.

Storing the Security Deposit:

After a landlord collects a tenant’s security deposit in Massachusetts, the landlord must place the tenant’s security deposit in a separate interest-bearing account. The landlord must pay the tenant the interest that has been earned on this account each year. The landlord must also provide the tenant with a yearly statement that includes the name and address of the bank where their security deposit is being stored, as well as the interest rate.

Written Notice:

After receiving a tenant’s security deposit, the landlord must provide the tenant with three separate written notices. These three notices are:

1. Notice that the landlord has received the tenant’s security deposit, including the amount of the deposit.

2. Within ten days of receiving the tenant’s security deposit, the landlord must provide notice stating the condition of the rental unit.

3. Notice that describes the terms of how and where the tenant’s security deposit is being held.

Security Deposit Records:

Massachusetts landlords have to keep records for any rental unit they have collected a security deposit for. These records must include any damage done to the unit, whether the damage has been repaired and the date of tenant move out. The landlord must keep these records for two years after tenant move out.

Allowed Deductions From Deposit:

Massachusetts landlords can take deductions for reasons such as damage in excess of normal wear and tear and to cover any unpaid water bills or real estate taxes.

Return of Deposit:

Landlords must return a tenant’s security deposit within 30 days’ of tenant move out. If the landlord is not returning the full deposit, then the landlord must also include an itemized list of any deductions that have been taken.

See Also: Massachusetts Security Deposit Law

3. Landlord Retaliation in Massachusetts

Ch. 186, Sec 18

Acts of Landlord Retaliation in Massachusetts:

  • Increasing a tenant’s rent.
  • Decreasing services to the tenant.
  • Significantly changing the terms of the tenant’s lease agreement.
  • Filing to evict the tenant.- Known as a retaliatory eviction.

Massachusetts’ Tenants Act Which Could Lead to Retaliation:

The following are some of the acts which could cause a landlord to retaliate in Massachusetts:

  • The tenant has complained to the board of health or another government agency about a suspected health, safety, or other violation at the property.
  • The tenant has complained directly to the landlord about a health, safety, or other violation at the property.
  • The tenant has joined or organized a tenants’ union.
  • The tenant has withheld rent until a health or safety violation at the property is fixed.

Timeline for Landlord’s Actions to Be Considered Retaliation:

If a landlord commits any of the above acts within six months of a tenant’s complaint or other legal action, then it will be assumed that the landlord’s act was an act of retaliation. The landlord will bear the burden of proving that the act was not a form of retaliation. 

Court Award for Acts of Retaliation:

If a court finds that a Massachusetts landlord has acted in retaliation, the tenant could be awarded damages which are equal to at least one month’s rent, but not more than three months’ rent, or actual damages, whichever is greater. The tenant could also be awarded court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.

Times When a Landlord’s Acts Are Not Considered Retaliation:

Filing an eviction for nonpayment of rent would not be considered an act of retaliation.

4. Landlord Entry in Massachusetts

Ch. 186., Sec 15B(1.)

Allowed Reasons for Entry Without Lease Clause:

A landlord can enter a tenant’s apartment for the following reasons:

  • By court order
  • When a tenant has abandoned the unit.
  • 30 days prior to tenant move out to inspect the premises for damages

Required Clause in Lease Agreement for Additional Entry:

If a landlord wants to enter a tenant’s apartment for any reason besides the above three reasons, the landlord must include a separate clause in the lease agreement. This clause should state that the landlord is allowed to enter a tenant’s unit to:

  • Inspect the unit
  • To make repairs to the property
  • To show the property to prospective tenants, buyers, or mortgagees.

Required Notice:

Massachusetts law does not specify the amount of notice a landlord must give before entering a tenant’s apartment. In most cases, 24 hours’ notice would be considered reasonable.

5. Rights of Victims of Domestic Violence in Massachusetts

Ch. 186, Sec 24, 25 and 26

Tenant’s Right to Terminate Rental Agreement:

A tenant who has been a victim of domestic violence has the right to terminate the rental agreement by providing written notice. The tenant must move out of the rental unit within three months of providing this written notice or the notice will become invalid.

Timeline to Terminate:

The tenant can terminate the lease if the incident occurred within the last three months or if they have an imminent fear of an act of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking.

Proof of Domestic Violence:

The landlord has the right to request proof of the tenant’s domestic violence claim. This proof could be any of the three following documents:

  • A copy of a court order of protection.
  • A copy of a police report or other law enforcement report documenting an act of domestic violence, sexual assault, rape or stalking.
  • A written statement from a qualified third party, such as a domestic violence agency or clinic, who the tenant reported the incident to. The report must include the date of the incident, as well as the name of the perpetrator, if known. It also should include a written statement from the victim, if the victim is an adult, which states that the incident is true.

Return of Security Deposit:

Tenants who have been victims of domestic violence are entitled to the return of their security deposit. The landlord is still allowed to make legal deductions for reasons such as damages or unpaid utility bills.

Landlord Cannot Refuse to Rent to Domestic Violence Victims:

A Massachusetts landlord cannot refuse to rent to a tenant because the tenant terminated a prior lease due to domestic violence or because the tenant requested to have the locks on their rental unit changed.

Right to Have Locks Changed:

If a tenant or a member of the tenant’s household has been a victim of domestic violence, they can request that their landlord change the locks on their unit. The landlord must change the locks within two days of receiving the tenant’s request. The landlord can charge a reasonable fee for changing the locks. 

If the landlord is unable to change the locks, he or she can give the tenant permission to change the locks. The tenant should give the landlord a key as soon as possible.

If the landlord refuses to change the locks or refuses to allow the tenant to change the locks, the tenant may be awarded damages of up to three months’ rent, plus court costs, and reasonable attorney’s fees.

Massachusetts’ Landlord Tenant Law

If you would like to view the original text of Massachusetts’ landlord-tenant law, please see, Massachusetts General Laws Annotated, Chapter 186, Section 1A to 29 and Chapter 186a, Section 1 to 6.