Boston landlords and tenants need to follow all of the local, state, and federal laws that apply to rental housing. As a property owner, you need to know these laws to protect yourself and your property. Your investment is worth a lot of money, and you don’t want to face losses and lawsuits because you didn’t know how to lawfully lease, manage, and maintain your property.
Tenants also need to understand their own legal protections and responsibilities.
Let’s take a look at some of the Massachusetts rental laws that every investor and tenant should know before leasing a property.
Habitability Laws in Massachusetts
Landlords are responsible for providing a clean, safe, and habitable rental home to tenants.
The State Sanitary Code defines habitability. In general, Massachusetts defines “habitable” as a place that is comfortable and clean enough for a tenant to live safely.
As a property owner, you must respond to a tenant’s complaints about any habitability violations, otherwise, the tenant can request that a code enforcement officer or the local board of health inspect the property. Even if you have nothing to worry about, you don’t want these officials in your property. They will review the condition of the home and order you to fix any problems they find.
When tenants put in a maintenance request or need help with repairs, give those your immediate attention to prevent any potential code violations.
If your rental property was built before 1978, both landlords and tenants are required to read, sign, and retain a copy of the Tenant Lead Law Notification and Tenant Certification. These forms are to inform the tenant of known risks and causes of lead poisoning and disclose if it is known that lead-based paint is present in the rental property.
Massachusetts Security Deposits and Rent
Security deposits are collected at the beginning of a tenancy, and those deposits must be held in a Massachusetts bank. The account must also collect interest. Within 30 days of move-in, the landlord must provide tenants with the name and address of the bank holding the security deposit, plus the account number. Each year, the landlord must either pay the tenant the interest on the security deposit or let the tenant deduct that amount from a rent payment.
If there’s going to be a security deposit dispute, this will likely occur at the end of the lease term. Tenants might dispute what the landlords are withholding from the deposit for damage or cleaning.
To prevent any disagreements over the security deposit, landlords are encouraged to provide documented condition reports before a tenant moves in and after a tenant moves out. Tenants have a right to see the condition report within 10 days of move-in, and to make their own notes on that report.
When the tenancy ends, here’s what happens legally:
- The tenant must provide a forwarding address for the return of the deposit.
- The landlord must return the security deposit, plus interest, within 30 days.
- If the landlord keeps any part of the deposit to cover unpaid rent or pay for repairs beyond normal wear and tear, there must be a written description of the reason within 30 days of the tenant moving out.
There is no rent control in Massachusetts. It was banned in a referendum in 1994.
Eviction Laws in Massachusetts
As a landlord, you cannot take possession of the rental property, physically remove the tenant or their personal property, or change the locks without going through a court eviction. We know it’s frustrating if a tenant has not paid rent in months, but you cannot show up and demand they leave. You must follow the legal eviction process:
- Depending on the reason for eviction, a landlord must provide the tenant either a 14-Day or 30-day Notice to Quit.
- Next, the landlord must file a civil action in court, and get a judgment from the court that specifies the date that the tenant must leave the rental property with their belongings.
- If the tenant does not move out by that date, the landlord schedules a sheriff or constable to serve an executed judgment on the tenant ordering them to leave. The order can also grant permission for the sheriff or constable to relocate any personal property belonging to the tenant to a licensed public warehouse.
When personal property needs to be removed from the home and stored, the landlord is obligated to pay those costs and then demand reimbursement from the tenant
Lease Agreement Terms and Requirements
Landlords and tenants will sign a lease agreement before the tenancy begins. A strong lease protects all parties as well as the property. You’ll want the lease to include:
- The name, address, and phone number of the owner, property manager, and tenant.
- Responsibilities of both landlords and tenants.
- Rent collection process.
- Maintenance reporting process.
- Security deposit information
- Pet policy.
- Legal disclosures.
Landlords are responsible for providing a legible copy of the lease or rental agreement. The lease must not include illegal requirements such as:
- Requiring the tenant to pay for the cost of repairing ordinary wear and tear to the rental property.
- Requiring the tenant to pay for repairs to parts of a building beyond the tenant’s property.
- Prohibiting the tenant from bringing a legal case against the landlord or making reports of violations against the Sanitary Code.
- Prohibiting the tenant from joining a tenant’s union.
- Payment of late fees for one or two days late. A lease or rental agreement may permit the landlord to charge a late fee if a rent payment is 30 or more days late.
In addition to all these state laws, remember that federal fair housing laws are extremely important to know. You’ll also need to understand the differences between pets and service animals and why you might have to install a wheelchair ramp if a tenant needs that accommodation.
If you’re overwhelmed by all the things you need to know legally, please contact us at Platinum Realty Group. We stay up to date on all local, state, and federal laws. We’d be happy to answer your questions whether you’re a Boston landlord or a Boston tenant.