Know Your Rights as a Tenant, Part 2: After You Move In
Once you’ve learned your rights as a tenant before you move in, 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 a lease and begun your tenancy.
As you settle into your new home, keep these rights in mind:
- Habitable Home — 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 your home 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, 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 they cannot refuse to rent to 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 home 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 good 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 that affect 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 has to notify you 30 days in advance.
- Retaliation — The landlord can’t retaliate against tenants by raising rent or trying to evict you for making complaints about the rental, joining a tenants’ organization, or exercising your legal rights.
- Security Deposit — If you have not damaged the property, the landlord has to return your security deposit with interest within 30 days of the end of tenancy. If the property has been damaged by you or someone you’re responsible for, 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 your 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, you are responsible for paying rent through the end of the lease. However, the landlord must make reasonable efforts to find a new tenant during this time. 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 the lease. Generally, though, the landlord cannot lock a tenant out. If you find yourself in a conflict with your landlord, you may seek help from the Consumer Advocacy & Response Division (CARD) 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 have to leave.
With this knowledge, you can ensure your rights are respected throughout your tenancy and that your rental experience is positive.
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