As in most states, a landlord in Massachusetts can't write whatever they like in a lease agreement. State landlord-tenant law dictates what a rental agreement can and cannot say and offers stability in tenant/landlord relationships for the duration of that contract.
A lease contains the requirements that apply to both parties, including the amount of rent the tenant will pay by a specified date, the amount of the security deposit, and what the landlord is responsible for according to the Massachusetts Sanitary Code, among other factors.
Leased-Based Tenancy in Massachusetts
A lease is a document that a landlord signs with a tenant, stating the specifics of their relationship, including how long it will last through tenancy, which is typically a year. What the tenant pays in rent each month remains the same during that time. Because there is a lease, the landlord cannot end the tenancy unless that person does not satisfy the lease's conditions.
The tenant has an obligation to pay rent on time for the lease term and can only end their tenancy early if the landlord agrees to terminate the relationship.
A lease offers stability in a tenancy between a tenant and landlord. This written contract contains all of the requirements that apply to the relationship for both parties.
Landlord and Tenant Obligations
A lease outlines the responsibilities of the tenant, such as how much they must pay in rent and when they must pay it, and the rules regarding their unit and the property's common areas. The lease states that any damages beyond "normal wear and tear" are the tenant's responsibility.
It will also state that the landlord is responsible for a safe, clean unit complying with the Massachusetts Sanitary Code, as well as other factors that are the landlord's responsibility, like a stove or refrigerator in the unit.
Entry Into Rental Unit by Landlord
While the tenant lives in the residential property, the landlord can enter only under specific circumstances. They must arrange in advance with the tenant to make repairs, inspect the apartment's condition, or show the unit to prospective real estate agents, buyers or new tenants.
However, a landlord can enter a unit without approval from the tenant in the case of a mechanical or repair emergency if it looks like it may damage the property or the tenant has abandoned the unit.
Tenant and Landlord Negotiations
Before renting a property, both landlord and tenant have the right to negotiate the lease's terms. The landlord should not rush a prospective tenant into signing the lease. Both the landlord and the potential tenant should be clear about the lease terms before signing on the dotted line.
Any changes made to the lease should be written in pen with the old terms crossed out. The changes should be initialed by both parties.
Terms of a Massachusetts Lease Agreement
Every lease must include specific items, such as the property owner's name, address and phone number; the maintenance person's contact information; and information regarding a person the tenant can contact with complaints, court papers or other formal notices.
If the tenant must pay a security deposit, the lease must show the amount and explain the tenant's rights to return of that money when the tenancy ends. The landlord must ensure that the tenant's copy of the lease is legible.
Prohibited Residential Lease Agreement Terms
Landlords are prohibited from including certain terms in Massachusetts residential lease agreements. They are:
- The landlord requires the tenant to pay for everyday wear and tear to the unit.
- The landlord requires the tenant to pay for repairs outside of the unit.
- The tenant cannot sue the landlord for state sanitary code violations.
- The tenant cannot report state sanitary code violations.
- The tenant cannot join a tenants' union.
- The landlord requires the tenant to pay a late fee if their rent is just one day late
In Massachusetts, a landlord can only charge a late fee if a tenant's rent is late by 30 days or more.
Defining Massachusetts Sanitary Code
The Massachusetts Sanitary Code defines what makes a rental property "habitable," meaning comfortable and clean enough for a tenant to live safely. The tenant has the right to report any sanitary code violations to the landlord. If the landlord doesn't respond, the renter can request an inspection of their unit from the local health board or a code enforcement officer.
After an inspection of the conditions, they'll order the landlord to fix the issues if necessary. If the landlord fails to do so, the tenant may be able to withhold some of the rent or move out, but before taking either action, they may wish to contact an attorney or tenants' rights organization for more information and guidance.
Paint Disclosure for Buildings Built Before 1978
If a tenant moves into a building constructed before 1978, both the tenant and landlord must sign and keep a copy of the Tenant Lead Law Notification and Tenant Certification. These documents inform the tenant of the causes of lead poisoning, the risks associated with it, and will disclose if the unit has lead-based paint.
The Massachusetts landlord must also notify the tenant of any documents relating to lead paint risk assessment done on the apartment, including a Letter of Compliance or Letter of Interim Control from the local health board. If a child six or under will live in the unit, the landlord must de-lead the unit or bring its lead hazards under control in the interim.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.