The Free Rent Trick in Massachusetts

| Oct 12, 2017 | Landlord Tenant Law |

robber leaving house

Landlords have been fighting the free rent trick in Massachusetts for decades. There’s a giant loophole in the Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 239 Section 8A, that gives the tenant a “get out of jail free” card with evictions. We call this loophole “the free rent trick.”

How to Perform the Free Rent Trick: A Guide for Dishonest Tenants

Before you can perform the free rent trick, you will need to receive some form of public assistance: Section 8, Massachusetts Rent Voucher Program, HomeBASE, Residential Assistance for Families in Transitipm WIC, Food stamps, SSI, SSDI, Social Security, Veteran’s benefits, etc.

Also note that at the end of the process, usually three months, you will probably have to move. Line up a new apartment early. You can repeat the trick as often as you can find the right landlords.

To perform the free rent trick, simply follow these steps:

  1. Sign a rental agreement with a Massachusetts landlord who offers sloppy paperwork.
    • It’s best if you can find a landlord who doesn’t mention anything about signing a “conditions statement”.
    • Poor, elderly, or uneducated landlords are the best mark. Find someone kind and trusting.
    • Older buildings and apartments are better than newly renovated ones.
  2. When no one is looking, create one or more violations of the state sanitary code.
    • Take a knife and poke wide holes in the window screens.
    • Loosen the nut on the drain under the kitchen sink so that it drips.
    • Loosen the toilet so that it leaks a tiny bit of dirty water at the base.
    • Knock a hole in a painted surface.
  3. You can now stop paying rent.
  4. Wait for the landlord to give you a “notice to quit,” then immediately call your local board of health. Say, “My landlord is doing a bad job and I can’t get his/her attention to fix stuff. Please come as quickly as possible.”
  5. Let the inspector into your apartment. If he asks how long it has been like this, say, “Since I moved in. I can’t afford anywhere else.”
  6. Be brave, you will have to go to court for eviction. When you get to court, tell the clerk you want an attorney for the day but cannot afford one. They will appoint you one. Show the attorney the inspector’s report and say this is why you stopped paying rent.
  7. While in court, let the free attorney do his or her job. The landlord may have to enter your apartment to fix stuff. Continue not paying rent.
  8. More bravery is required! The judge will eventually say you owe most of the rent. They will enter a “judgment” with your name on it. Don’t pay it! As long as you receive public assistance, you will never have to pay that judgment.
  9. Find a new apartment and repeat.


  • If your deception is discovered, you may lose the eviction quickly. Find another apartment with another trusting landlord early in the process.

How Landlords Want to Stop the Free Rent Trick

The solution to the free rent trick is simple: require the tenant to put their rent into escrow. When the judgment is finally entered, the amount is divvied up to landlord and tenant according to whatever is fair.

Under mandatory escrow, a few landlords at first would still suffer the horror of eviction, but the rent owed would finally be paid back. Once word got around that the free rent trick was dead, dishonest tenants and tenant advocates would stop using it.

In an ideal bill, the tenants should escrow rent at the start of their complaint by opening a special account at a local bank. Banks should be allowed to charge a nominal fee for this service, and the tenant should have the right to get this fee deducted from the landlord if any rent is owed back to them.

If a tenant doesn’t escrow, they must lose the right to defend based on sanitary code violations. They can keep the right to defend for other reasons. In the same way we require landlords to take certain steps when offering rental agreements, we must require tenants to follow a process, too.

Mandatory Escrow of Full Rent is the Only Fair Solution

Escrowing the rent will still stop slumlords from running terrible places. They won’t be getting paid for as long as the rent is headed into escrow. This will get their attention. Even when a string of phone calls and pleas haven’t moved the slumlord to act, stopping payment will get their attention.

The judge will still have absolute discretion to decide the amount of rent owed back to the tenant. It could be 100%, if the violations are severe enough.

Typically, only 10% to 30% of the rent is owed back to the tenant. The rest is owed to the landlord.

With escrow, it doesn’t matter that judgments are uncollectable when someone receives public assistance. It also doesn’t matter if the tenant lives hand-to-mouth and has no savings. Escrow exists to safeguard the interests of both parties when a transaction is uncertain. Escrow works, which explains why it’s often used when purchasing properties.

The Law Offices of Renee Lazar represents landlords and tenants throughout Massachusetts in eviction hearings. Call 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation.

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