A Guide to Massachusetts Landlord Tenant Law
As a landlord it can be extremely helpful to have a basic understanding of how tenant law works in Massachusetts. By knowing your rights, and the rights of your tenants, you will be able to avoid the common pitfalls that many landlords inadvertently fall into. An understanding of the law is also a great way to lay the foundation for being a successful landlord. With this guide we hope to help you better your understanding of the law and make your job a little easier.
Navigating Rental and Lease Agreements
Rental and lease agreements are legally binding contracts outlining the expectations and responsibilities of both the landlord and the tenant. Understanding what should be included in these agreements is paramount to being a successful landlord. Listed here is not everything that can possibly go into a lease agreement, but it is a good start for avoiding problems down the road.
First, you should have the names of all tenants who will be occupying the residence. This ensures that they are legally required to follow all rules set forth in the rental agreement. It also ensures that no one who is not listed can move into the property without your permission.
Identification of Premises
The identification of premises should state exactly what parts of the property the tenant is able to use. This may seem like it would just include the living areas, but remember to include any parking spaces or outdoor areas that the tenant is entitled to.
This is one of the most important parts of a lease agreement. Removing an unwanted tenant is much easier if their lease states exactly when they are supposed to vacate the property. Be careful not to make the term too long (we recommend six months to one year) as canceling a lease early can be a long and difficult process.
Rental Payments and Other Fees
In this section you should outline exactly how much rent is, and exactly when it is expected to be paid. This is also where you should outline security deposit payments and damage payments.
Occupancy limits are often overlooked but should always be included in a lease. This will ensure that the tenants of your property cannot move in additional people. In this section you should also make it clear that the property is only for residential use, not business.
Amenities and Utilities
You should make it absolutely clear what amenities and utilities are included in the rental. Be careful when listing amenities, as if the lease states that the tenant is entitled to use the pool (or other amenity) then you will be required to ensure that the amenity stays in working order. As for utilities, state which ones are included in the rental price, such as water and garbage collection.
Process for Requests
In this section, state clearly who is to be contacted in case of repairs and other issues. Include very specific contact information and preferred means of contact (email or phone call).
Right to Entry
Here is where you will state under what circumstances you, as the landlord, may enter the property. Massachusetts law requires that you give a tenant 24 hours notice before entering the property, except in an emergency situation. You can also use this section to outline when scheduled maintenance will take place.
What Is a Tenancy At Will?
Simply put, tenancy at will refers to a situation where the landlord and tenant do not have a signed lease, or the lease does not state the duration of the tenants occupancy. This is often referred to as a “month-to-month lease”, as the tenant usually pays rent in advance every month. In a tenancy at will situation, the tenant may stop paying rent and vacate the premises whenever they like. Similarly, as the landlord you may inform the tenant that you will not be renting to them for any longer and that they must vacate the premises at the end of the current month.
In Massachusetts, a landlord has what is referred to as the “duty to provide habitable premises”. Generally, this means that you must protect the health, safety, and well-being of your tenants and the general public. Specifically, it means you must ensure that you provide:
- A working heating system
- A usable kitchen
- Access to clean and hot water
- A property free of rodent and bug infestations
- Safe and up-to-code structural elements
- Well maintained exits
Failure to provide the aforementioned items, or failure to repair them in a timely manner, can result in you inadvertently breaking the lease agreement and finding yourself in housing court.
Massachusetts Eviction Laws
Massachusetts is extremely strict when it comes to evicting one of your tenants. These strict laws prevent a landlord from removing a tenant from a residence without first getting a court order. First you must file a court case, called a summary process, stating that you would like to evict a tenant. You will then plead your case to the court, informing them of why you are seeking eviction. The judge will then issue a court order, called an execution, stating that you are allowed to evict your tenant. However, this does not mean you can simply go to the residence and begin removing the tenant and their belongings. In Massachusetts, you must contact a sheriff or constable and have them carry out the eviction.
Because of the intricacies of strict laws in Massachusetts, it is best to seek landlord representation from an experienced attorney in the event of any legal action or complications with your tenant. An experienced attorney understands the nuances of Massachusetts eviction laws and can help you navigate a serious and oftentimes stressful situation arising from trying to remove a tenant from your property.
Legal Process for Landlord Tenant Disputes
In the landlord-tenant relationship there are a multitude of opportunities for disputes to arise. These can include disputes over repairs, damages, fulfillment of responsibilities, and much more. In cases such as these it is best to try and work things out with your tenant on your own, but this is not always possible. When an impasse is reached, your only option is to go to housing court. This is a civil case where the court will hear both sides of the argument and make a decision. It is important to employ the services of an experienced housing attorney, who will know how to give you the best chance of winning in the court of law.
The information contained in this blog is for general information purposes only. Bonville & Howard assumes no responsibility for errors or omissions in the contents of the blog.
In no event shall Bonville & Howard be liable for any special, direct, indirect, consequential, or incidental damages or any damages whatsoever, whether in an action of contract, negligence, or other tort, arising out of or in connection with the use of this blog or the contents of this blog. Bonville & Howard reserves the right to make additions, deletions, or modifications to the contents of this blog at any time without prior notice.