The Students Are Coming, The Students Are Coming! A Mini-Review Of Massachusetts Landlord Tenant Rental Law, Part 1.

by Rich Vetstein on July 20, 2010

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

In a few weeks, the *quiet* streets of Allston, Brighton, Cambridge, Boston and other Massachusetts tenant friendly cities will turn into the zoo that is known as student moving week. So it’s time to review frequently asked questions for Massachusetts landlord tenant rental law.

Screening Prospective Tenants

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 to ascertain whether a potential tenant could be a safety risk to others nearby. 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.

The Boston Undergraduate Rule

Update: Dec. 2011Renting To 4 or More College Students Considered Illegal Lodging House. Click Here to Read More.

Under a two year old Boston zoning ordinance, no more than four (4) full time undergraduate students may live together in a single apartment.  The rule does not apply to graduate students or fraternity/sorority houses. The fines for violating this ordinance are stiff; don’t do it.

While on this topic, landlords should ensure that all roommates are signatories to the lease and are “jointly and severally” liable for rent. That way, if one tenant skips out, the remaining tenants remain liable for the full rent.

Students 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. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure here.


Subject to some restrictions, landlords may prohibit pets altogether or use reasonable rules to control them on rental property. Under federal law, a landlord cannot prohibit a qualified disabled tenant from using a service pet such as a seeing eye dog. There are also restrictions on prohibiting household pets for federally subsidized elderly and disabled housing project.

More topics, including last month/security deposits and illegal lease clauses, to follow next!

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