Once you’ve learned your rights as a tenant prior to signing your lease, it’s time to figure out what happens after you move in. The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) and the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) share information about your rights once you have signed the lease and begun your tenancy.
As you prepare to settle into your new home, keep these rights in mind:
- Habitable Premises — The landlord must provide you with a habitable place to live, meaning a space that is comfortable, clean, and safe. If you discover a violation of the Massachusetts state sanitary code or conditions in the apartment that are not in line with these standards, you may make a written complaint to your landlord. If the landlord does not respond to your complaint by making the repairs within 14 days or by contracting someone to do it within five days, then you can request an inspection from a code enforcement officer or the local board of health, which can be contacted through the local public health directory.
- Deleading — Massachusetts’ lead paint and anti-discrimination laws require landlords to delead rental units if children under age six will be living there, and cannot refuse to house you for this reason. You must be informed of the lead paint status of the rental before you move in.
- Renter’s Insurance — Your landlord’s insurance will not cover your personal property, so you may want to consider getting renter’s insurance to protect your possessions from damage and loss. Renter’s insurance for college students is also available.
Living in a Rental
Once you’ve moved into your rental, make sure you know your rights and responsibilities so you can have a pleasant experience:
- Unlawful Entry — As a tenant, you have the right to privacy in your rented home. The landlord may lawfully enter your home only with advance notice and under specific circumstances, such as to make repairs or show the rental to prospective clients. However, the landlord may enter your home without advance notice if it appears to be abandoned.
- Repair and Deduct — If your landlord does not make necessary repairs pertaining to your safety, health, and well-being, you may be able to make the repairs yourself and deduct the cost from your rent under certain circumstances.
- Withholding Payment — You may lawfully withhold rent under certain circumstances, such as if the board of health has cited your unit for health violations or if the landlord has failed to make necessary repairs.
- Late Payment — If you are late paying rent, the landlord must wait at least 30 days past its due date to charge a penalty, but they may begin the process of eviction immediately if they choose.
- Shutoff — The landlord can only remove or shut off tenant utilities for temporary repairs or emergencies. If your landlord’s account will be shut off for nonpayment, the utility company must notify you 30 days in advance.
- Retaliation — The landlord may not retaliate against tenants by raising rent or trying to evict you for making complaints about the rental, joining a tenants’ organization, or exercising legal rights.
- Security Deposit — If you have not damaged the property during your tenancy, the landlord must return your security deposit with interest within 30 days of the end of tenancy. If the property has been damaged by you or someone under your control, damage deductions will be taken out of your security deposit at the end of your lease.
Ending a Lease
At some point, you or your landlord may decide to end the lease or tenancy-at-will. This can happen in a number of ways:
- Breaking a Lease — If a tenant wants to break a lease early and the landlord does not agree, the tenant is responsible for continuing to pay rent through the end of the lease. However, the landlord must make reasonable efforts to find a new tenant during this time. If they do not, you may make a claim to stop paying rent. OCABR recommends seeking legal advice to make this claim. If the landlord is okay with you moving out early, you may simply modify the lease to account for the new move-out date.
- Eviction — In some instances, the landlord may evict a tenant for nonpayment, excessive damage to the apartment, or violating the terms of their lease. Generally, however, the landlord cannot lock a tenant out. If you find yourself in a conflict with your landlord, you may seek mediation services from the Public Inquiry and Assistance Center (PIAC) to resolve your dispute and avoid eviction.
- Foreclosure — If you are living in a building that is facing foreclosure, you are protected from being evicted by the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act (PTFA). Tenants who have agreed to a lease may live in the unit until the end of their lease, and tenants-at-will must be given 90 days’ notice before they must leave.
With this knowledge, you can ensure your rights are respected throughout your tenancy and that your rental experience is positive.
Tweet @MassGov or comment below with questions about tenant rights or landlord responsibilities.
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