According to the United States Census Bureau (USCB), as of 2013, more than 37 percent of Massachusetts homes were occupied by renters.
Searching for a rental home, signing a lease, and meeting new neighbors can be exciting, but it’s also important that you keep your rights as a tenant in mind. The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) and the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) provide information on what you should expect from your landlord before renting a home in Massachusetts.
Starting Your Search
As you begin your housing search, there are a few things you should know about:
- Discrimination — It is illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants based on their race, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, or disability status under the Fair Housing Act. Additional Massachusetts state laws prohibit discrimination based on age, marital status, sexual preference, veteran status, gender identity, and whether or not the tenant is receiving housing subsidies.
- If you believe you have been discriminated against by a landlord, you may file a complaint with the Civil Rights Division or the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD).
- Screening — Although landlords cannot discriminate based on housing subsidies, they do have the right to screen applicants to ensure that they will be able to make rent payments. They may run a credit check, review your rental history, or ask about your employment and salary.
Signing a Lease
Once you have found the right home, the next step is to understand the type of lease you are agreeing to. You can negotiate the terms of a rental agreement, but once it is signed, you and your landlord must comply with it. Your rental may fall under two different types of tenancy:
- Tenancy Based on a Lease — A tenancy based on a lease occurs when you and your landlord agree on an amount of time that you will occupy the rental for (usually a year). During that time, your landlord may not change the cost of rent, and you are obligated to pay rent for the full term of the lease.
- Tenancy-at-Will —A tenancy-at-will is a written or unwritten lease agreement that lasts for as long as the landlord and tenant agree to it. In this type of lease, you may move out whenever you choose and your landlord can change the price of rent, as long you both give at least 30 days or a month’s notice, whichever is longer.
If you are signing a written lease, your landlord must provide you with a rental agreement and give you a signed copy of the agreement within 30 days of signing.
Before you move in, your landlord should have assessed the rental property for any major damage. In the rare case when there were health violations, the landlord must have received a signature from the inspector approving the rental.
Paying Your Landlord
Your landlord has the right to ask for certain payments before move-in. These payments may only include:
- First month’s rent
- Last month’s rent
- A security deposit (to cover the costs of any damage caused by the tenant beyond normal “wear and tear” to the apartment)
- The cost of a new lock and key
If you are asked to put down a security deposit, your landlord must provide you with a Statement of Condition describing the condition of the apartment, which you can amend within 15 days of receiving the statement or moving in — whichever is later. Both parties should keep copies of the final statement, because if you and your landlord disagree on damages at the end of your lease, you can use this document to prove that damages existed when you moved in, possibly enabling you to get your full deposit back.
Once you’ve settled your paperwork, the next step is to move into your new home. Stay tuned for “Know Your Rights as a Tenant, Part 2: After You Move In,” which will provide information on your rights during tenancy and when you decide to move out.
If you have any questions about your rights while searching for a home to rent or signing a lease, comment below or tweet @MassGov.
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