Your Rights as a Landlord

Types of Tenancies

What legal rights you have or do not have will depend on the type and location of tenancy. These are laws for Massachusetts. Your laws are most likely very similar to these however it would be a good idea to make sure you know the laws in your state.

Leasing

Most of the time a lease means a signed agreement to rent an apartment for a certain amount of time, for a specific amount of money usually paid monthly. You cannot evict the tenant before the end of the term, unless your tenant is in violation of some condition of the lease. You can't increase the rent until the end of the lease, unless it specifically states otherwise. Most leases allow you to evict the tenant, if they violate certain terms of the lease. A fourteen (14) day notice to quit is required for nonpayment of rent (M.G.L. c. 186, § 11). Although your tenant has agreed to pay you for every month of the tenancy the lease exists, if the tenant leaves the apartment without your consent, the tenant, except as stated below, owes rent for the entire remaining balance of the lease. However, you must make reasonable efforts to find a new tenant to take over the balance of the former tenant’s lease. This is known as the landlord’s duty to mitigate damages.

At Will Renting

You have a Tenancy at Will when, with your permission, a person occupies your apartment, paying rent regularly, usually monthly. A Tenancy at Will may be written or oral. Either you or your tenant may terminate this agreement at any time for a specific reason or for no reason by giving 30 days written notice or notice which covers a full rental period, whichever is longer. Termination of a Tenancy at Will for nonpayment requires only a 14 day notice to quit (M.G.L. c.186, § 12).

While a valid Tenancy at Will may be either oral or written, reducing the agreement to writing provides added protections for both you and the tenant, and this should be done at all times. It is also recommended that the tenancy agreement be written because in the absence of a written document placing the burden of paying utilities on the tenant, the law places the burden of paying those utilities on the landlord, even in the face of an oral agreement stating the tenant will pay them. A handshake is nice, but a written agreement is far better (105 C.M.R. § 410.190, § 410.201, § 410.354).

Some Other Useful Info

The Right to Prompt Payment

You have the right to receive the rent on the first of each month unless the parties otherwise agree. There is no grace period in Massachusetts and therefore if the tenant does not pay on the first of the month, you may begin an eviction by sending a notice to quit.

The Right to Have Compliance With Tenancy Agreement

You have the right to have the tenant abide by the terms of the tenancy, whether it is oral or written. If the tenant breaches terms of the tenancy, for example by having unauthorized sub-tenants, pets, smokers, or other prohibited uses such as raising pigeons in the apartment, you have the right to terminate the tenancy and to move to evict. See Eviction below.

Increasing Rent

You may increase the rent in any amount you believe the market will bear for a non-subsidized unit or for a unit that does not fall under the few remaining restrictions of rent control pertaining to mobile homes, under the following circumstances:

  • Under a tenancy at will, you must end the tenancy and notify the tenant of the rent increase at least a full rental period in advance, but not less than 30 days in advance of the effective date of the increase.
  • You may only increase the rent of a tenant under a lease after the lease terms expires, unless the lease states otherwise. Typically, the lease will state notice deadlines for renewal which should be observed when seeking a rent increase of a tenant under lease. Rent increases can be complicated. The advice of an attorney should be sought before attempting it. Increasing rent incorrectly could lead to costly, time-consuming and needless problems or litigation with your tenant (M.G.L. c. 186, §§ 11, 12).

Late Payment Penalty

You may not charge a late fee or penalty for rent paid past the due date unless it is paid 30 days or more past the due date. A reverse penalty to encourage early payment is also illegal. For instance, where you promised to reduce the rent by 10 % if the rent is paid within the first five days of the month, this is an illegal provision (940 CMR § 3.17 (6)(a). However, because there is no "grace period," you may begin eviction if the rent is only one day late.

Utilities

You may require tenants to pay their own electricity and gas bills. But, if you do not put this obligation in a written tenancy agreement, you may later be charged with paying past utility bills, if the tenant refuses to pay, despite having verbally agreed to pay them.