In Massachusetts, like in most states, a landlord can't simply write anything he chooses into a lease agreement. A good lease agreement must meet the state's legal requirements and not step on the tenant's rights. A Massachusetts rental lease agreement that conforms to the state's legal standards has a better chance of holding up if the landlord and tenant wind up in court.
The Basic Agreement
A standard Massachusetts lease agreement should spell out all the essential details of the rental, including:
- names and addresses of the landlord and tenant
- address of the rental property
- length of the lease term (if the lease automatically renews, the agreement should say so)
- amount of the rent and when it's due each month
- where the tenant delivers the rent
- any appliances and furniture that come with the property
- amount of the security deposit and the terms for returning it when the tenant leaves
- who pays for utilities
- grounds for the landlord to enter the rental unit
- where the tenant delivers any written notices
A lease that doesn't include an ending date or fails to state the amount of rent is not valid in Massachusetts.
Tenants can ask landlords to change the lease if they disagree with one of the terms. They have that right even if the landlord uses a standard lease for the rental.
The Tenant's Obligations
The lease should specify who will live in the rental to ensure that the tenant doesn't invite someone to live with him who could not pass a background check. Other terms in the lease agreement should cover keeping the premises clean, acceptable noise levels, repairing damage and whether the tenant can sublease the apartment.
The Tenant's Rights
A rental lease agreement can't trump state and federal laws. For example, if the lease says the tenant must pay a penalty if the rent is even one day late, state law says there's no fee before 30 days – nothing in the lease can override that. The lease cannot include other unlawful terms, such as:
- The tenant must pay for ordinary wear and tear.
- The tenant must pay for repairs anywhere outside his apartment.
- The tenant can't sue the landlord or report code violations.
None of those terms are legal or binding, even if the tenant signed a rental lease agreement that contained such terms.
A tenant should always read the lease carefully, even if it's a standard printed form. Just because the landlord says it's standard doesn't guarantee that this is true.
Advantage of a Lease Agreement
A Massachusetts landlord can legally rent property based on an oral agreement, but there are advantages to drawing up a written lease agreement. In case of a disagreement, neither tenant nor landlord has to rely on what they think they agreed to if the terms of the agreement are spelled out in black and white.
The lease offers both parties certainty. The landlord knows he has a steady stream of rent coming in for the next year; the tenant knows how much he'll be paying for the next 12 months. The downside for the landlord is that he can't kick out the tenant simply because someone comes along who is willing to pay more for the property. And the tenant can't just move out on a whim and stop paying rent. State laws spell out the rules for moving out early or evicting a tenant. For example, if the tenant uses the property to sell drugs, the eviction process is swifter than usual.