Question#1. What up-front fees can a landlord charge to a tenant?
According to the Massachusetts Security Deposit Statute, residential landlords are only allowed to charge one of the following four types of fees to prospective tenants: (1) first month's rent, (2) last month's rent, (3) a security deposit equal to or less than the first month's rent; or (4) a key-and-lock purchase and installation.
Question #2. Can a landlord charge a tenant a security deposit?
Yes, landlords can charge and collect a security deposit from their tenants, but those funds must be held in a separate, interest-bearing account in a Massachusetts bank. While the funds are held, tenants are entitled to receive 5% interest or whatever lesser amount is received from the bank where the security deposit was deposited. To comply with the law, the landlord must provide a receipt to their tenants within 30 days identifying the bank's name, address, account number, and deposit amount.
Question #3. Can a landlord charge a tenant with a late fee or interest on late payments?
Yes, under certain circumstances, a late fee or interest charge can be charged. Landlords are allowed to charge their tenants late fees or interest. However, the caveat is that landlords can only charge a late fee or interest if it is a term that the tenant agreed upon when the tenancy commenced. The Massachusetts statute also forbids landlords from imposing a penalty or interest until 30 days after the rent is due.
Question #4. Can a landlord require a tenant to pre-pay rent?
No, it is unlawful for a landlord to require a tenant to pre-pay rent. Under Massachusetts law, a landlord is allowed to collect the first and last month's rent at or before the commencement of any tenancy; however, this is the ceiling for what they can demand. In exchange, the landlord must give the tenant a receipt of such prepaid rent. State law also requires a landlord to pay its tenant interest on any prepaid rent at a rate of 5% per year, or other such lesser amount of interest as has been received from the bank where the deposit has been held payable in accordance with the provisions of this clause, and a statement indicating that the tenant should provide the lessor with a forwarding address at the termination of the tenancy indicating where such interest may be given or sent.
Question #5. Is a landlord allowed to increase the amount of rent charged to a tenant?
Yes, under certain situations, a landlord can change the amount of rent charged to an existing tenant. A landlord has the ability to adjust the rental rate to any amount he or she sees fit; however, this can only occur after an existing lease agreement expires. The exception to this rule applies to tenancy-at-will arrangements, where no written lease agreement exists. The landlord is required to provide a tenant-at-will with notice of the intent to increase rent at least 30 days or one full rental period before the proposed termination date, whichever period is longer.
Question #6. Can a landlord require a tenant to obtain a rental insurance policy?
Yes, currently, a landlord may require a tenant to carry Massachusetts renters insurance, as a condition in the lease agreement.
Question #7. What are the standards of fitness for habitation that apply to rental units?
State agencies issue regulations that are compiled in the Code of Massachusetts Regulations ("CMR"). The State Sanitary Code includes the minimum standards of fitness for habitation that rental units must adhere to. The main goal of the code is to "protect the health, safety and well-being of the occupants of housing and of the general public, to facilitate the use of legal remedies available to occupants of substandard housing, to assist boards of health in their enforcement of this code and to provide a method of notifying interested parties of violations of conditions which require immediate attention."
Question #8. How does the eviction process work in Massachusetts?
State law allows a landlord to evict a tenant for a number of reasons, but the landlord must follow specific procedures. A landlord must properly terminate the tenancy, and then obtain permission from the court to take possession of the rented property. If a valid lease agreement is in place, then a tenant can be evicted for any of the following: violating the lease terms (if the lease agreement states the landlord can evict for that type of breach); failure to pay rent; or violations of (state or federal) law. If no lease agreement is in place and the tenant is there "at-will," a landlord can evict the tenant without stating a reason.
The caveat, is that the landlord must serve a notice to quit to terminate the tenancy. The first day a rental payment is late a landlord can initiate the eviction process. Termination for non-payment of rent requires the landlord to send a 14-Day Notice to Quit. A landlord may give a tenant at will, who has received a second notice to pay rent or quit within 12 months, an unconditional quit notice that gives the tenant 14 days to move out before the landlord can file for eviction. For a tenant to cure this issue and avoid eviction, he or she must pay the rent due within 10 days of receiving the Notice to Quit.
If the termination occurs for any other form of breach, then the tenant must be served with written notice within the longer of (1) 30 days in advance of termination, or (2) one full rental period.
Question #9. Do tenants have rights against unlawful discrimination?
Yes, state law forbids landlords from discriminating on the basis of specified protected categories. The current law, M.G.L. c. 151B § 4, states for "any person to make, print, or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published any notice, statement or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of multiple dwelling, contiguously located, publicly assisted or other covered housing accommodations that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation..., national origin, genetic information, ancestry, children, marital status, public assistance recipiency, or handicap or an intention to make any such preference, limitation or discrimination except where otherwise legally permitted."
If you find yourself facing a landlord tenant problem, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar either through email or telephone 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation.