Massachusetts Landlord Tenant Law: A Legal Refresher Course For Landlords

by Rich Vetstein on July 28, 2009 · 9 comments

in Housing Discrimination, Landlord Tenant Law, Leasing, Massachusetts Real Estate Law, Rental Housing

istock_000008947813xsmall-300x223.jpgWith the impending influx of renters and students invading the Greater Boston area soon, let’s review some often asked questions concerning Massachusetts landlord tenant law to assist landlords in navigating the rental process.

Screening Prospective Tenants: What You Can and Cannot Ask?

Landlords can legally ask about a tenant’s income, current employment, prior landlord references, credit history, and criminal history. Your rental application should include a full release of all credit history and CORI (Criminal Offender Registry Information).  Use CORI information with a great deal of caution, however, and offer the tenant an opportunity to explain any issues. Landlords should also check the Sex Offender Registry as they can be held liable for renting to a known offender. Use the rental application and other forms from the Greater Boston Real Estate Board.

Under Massachusetts discrimination laws, a landlord cannot refuse to rent to a tenant on the basis of the tenant’s race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, religion, military/veteran status, disability, receipt of public assistance, and children. It’s best to stay away from asking about these topics.

Students, especially undergraduates, often create problems for landlords. Meet with students personally before signing the lease and firmly explain a “no tolerance” policy against excessive noise, parties and misbehavior.

Careful screening of tenants is far less expensive than the cost of evicting a problem tenant.

Security And Last Month’s Rent Deposits:  Should I Take One?

I advise landlords not to take security deposits because any misstep, however innocent, under the complex Massachusetts security deposit law can subject the landlord to far greater liability than the deposit. Among other requirements, the security deposit law provides:

  • a landlord must give the tenant a written receipt with information as to where the deposit is being held;
  • a landlord must hold a security deposit in a separate interest bearing account, and pay interest to the tenant yearly;
  • at the beginning of the tenancy, a landlord must provide the tenant with a written “statement of condition” of the rental unit detailing its condition and any damage;
  • the tenant may note any damage on the statement of condition
  • At the end of the tenancy, if the landlord desires to deduct repair costs from the security deposit, it must provide the tenant with written notification and copies of all estimates within 30 days of the tenant’s move-out.

Under the law, any slip-up on these requirements can subject the landlord to liability for 3 times the deposit plus the tenant’s attorneys’ fees. That’s why I advise my landlord clients that security deposits aren’t worth the money. If you need a deposit, take a last month’s deposit, the requirements of which can be found here in the Massachusetts last month’s deposit law.

Due to the high interest in security deposits, I wrote a full post on the topic.  Click on Massachusetts Security Deposits to view the article.

My Property Has Lead Paint, What Do I Do?

Under the Massachusetts Lead Paint Law, landlords (and real estate agents) must disclose to tenants the presence of known lead paint for property built before 1978. The property must be de-leaded if a child under 6 will live there. That means if a young couple moves into a unit, then has a baby, the landlord must de-lead the property. There is no way around de-leading other than risking a discrimination claim for not renting to families with small children which is illegal. (Of course, many landlords unlawfully reject families with children). Exposing children to lead paint puts a landlord at huge legal risk.  Financial aid and tax credits for de-leading are available to qualified property owners. For all Massachusetts rental property built before 1978, landlords must provide all tenants regardless of family composition with a Massachusetts Tenant Notification and Certification form, and all lead inspection reports and testing information, if available.

Can I Take A Finder’s Fee?

Only a licensed real estate broker can lawfully collect a finder’s fee for bringing together a landlord and a tenant.  Landlords who don’t work with brokers cannot charge a finder’s fee.

For more information, I recommend reading the Landlord’s Guide To the Law by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.


Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts landlord tenant and eviction attorney. Please contact him with any questions.

  • Mark

    Looking for some guidance. I am 1 of 5 in a small condo assoc. We have needed repairs, approx. $3,000, in a common area. The lead person (an association member) has stated that he has 3 estimates on the project, but has only showed the association one of these, for a nay or yea vote. There were 3 yea votes, so the repairs will proceed. My question: Are we as association members allowed to see the other estimates? I have a feeling this person did not ask other contractors for repairs, just one, who happens to be a friend of his.

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  • JOJO

    BE CAREFUL renting in Natick MA. Lots and lots of SLUMLORDS in this town!

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  • Jon

    Just wondering..can anyone tell me, I’m about to rent a house, and I’m curious whether you can charge first month, security, last month, and a finders fee? This house is 1500 a month, 6000 dollars up front seems like it should be illegal! Any help would be greatly appreciated..Thanks!!

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  • aj

    Dear Rich,
    My landlord never gave me the bank info after the 30 days of sec deposit. In fact this has been a horrendous experience with an inconsiderate never fix anything noisy landlord but I am at the end of my term with this lease in Nov all rent is paid and I requested my deposit on move out I have already given in writing the 30 day notice to vacate. He never did a check list, never gave a bank statement in fact they never could seem to cash a check till 3 or 4 weeks after I gave it to them..Cant accumulate interest like that now can you. Well the apt is actually in better shape since I cleaned up the slop they seemed to miss but I don’t trust him.. Can you tell me what form letter I need to send in order to let him know I mean business. I prefer not to take up the courts time with something like this but its becoming an issue and I will make a statement they wont soon forget. I know somewhere out there is a landlord that appreciates a quiet clean person who’s never late on the rent and that actually cares about their tenants.

  • Nice Job with this article Rich. Interesting information on security deposits. I was not aware of the laws surrounding a landlord taking a security deposit.

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