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The concept of renting seems easy enough – find a place that meets your needs, agree with the landlord on price and length of lease, sign and make your payments. But you should understand the importance of your obligations as a tenant as well as the obligations of the landlord under the lease.

 

Lease Basics:

A lease is a contract between a tenant and the landlord for the use of a property. Many landlords use “standard form” leases which include basic provisions. Tenants do have the ability to negotiate with the landlord over the terms of the lease before signing. The lease term is typically for 12 months, but can be shorter or longer, as long as both parties agree. Leases can also be “at will,” which means there is no set end date. The lease continues month to month until either the landlord or the tenant provides the other with the requisite notice to terminate the lease. The lease also sets forth most of the obligations for landlord and tenant as they relate to the rental.

 

Provisions the Landlord CAN include in the lease:

  • Require tenants to remove snow. Snow removal, as well as other ordinary maintenance (such as yard work and picking up small trash) items may be included in the lease if the tenant has a means of egress separate from other occupants.
  • Require tenants to pay for various utilities.
  • Require tenants to pay rent by a particular method. Tenants may be required to pay rent by direct deposit, check, cash, or online. The terms of the lease will often dictate this requirement and may be negotiable if discussed with the landlord in advance of signing the lease.

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Provisions the Landlord CANNOT include in the lease:

  • Disclaim liability for all common areas such as elevators, stairways, lobbies or hallways. The landlord is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of these areas.
  • Disclaim liability for irregularities inside the apartment not caused by the tenant or their guests such as a broken heater, rodent or cockroach infestation, lack of hot water, or loss of water pressure.
  • Require tenant to make all necessary repairs, large or small, such as a leak in the roof or an electrical issue.  Issues that are beyond the control of the tenant are generally the responsibility of the landlord.

 

General Landlord Obligations:

Your landlord must ensure that the unit is fit for living. This means your landlord must ensure the unit has hot water, heat, and electricity. Though these necessities must be provided by law, keep in mind that your landlord can require you pay for them. Your lease stipulates who is responsible. Your landlord also does not have an unconditional right of entry—you are paying rent in exchange for the right to exclusive possession.  The landlord may enter to make repairs or show the unit to a prospective tenant, but only after making a reasonable effort to notify you first (with very few exceptions, such as emergency repairs).

 

General Tenant Obligations:

You are required to pay rent for the entire lease according to the terms in the lease. If a tenant fails to pay rent on time, the landlord can take action and begin eviction proceedings. As a tenant, you also have a duty to inform the landlord if major repairs are needed, such as fixing a leaky roof or a broken window, and to give the landlord adequate time to respond.

 

Breaking Your Lease:

Your landlord cannot raise the rent or levy additional charges or attempt to evict you through court proceedings before the end of the lease term unless you break the terms of the lease. Signing your lease means you are legally bound to pay rent for the full lease term. Should you break your lease, you are still required to pay your landlord. Limited exceptions include:

  • starting active military duty;
  • The condition of the rental unit violates Massachusetts health or safety codes;
  • You are a victim of domestic violence; or
  • The landlord violates your right to privacy.

 

In Massachusetts, landlords are required to make a reasonable effort to find another tenant if the tenant tries to leave early without the landlord’s approval. Once the landlord finds another tenant, the tenant who broke the lease will no longer owe rent from the time the new lease begins. It’s best to inform your landlord of your intent to break your lease and if possible, try to assist in finding a tenant to take your place.

 

More information about renting rights and responsibilities is available online on our website. If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation is committed to protecting consumers through consumer advocacy and education.

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