Both landlords and tenants should be able to deal with many legal questions and problems without a lawyer, once they understand the basics of state law. This overview of key landlord-tenant laws in Massachusetts will get you started.
Under Massachusetts law, landlords must disclose specific information to tenants (usually in the lease or rental agreement), such as a move-in checklist (if the landlord collected a security deposit) and the identity of anyone authorized to act on the landlord's behalf. For a full list, see Massachusetts Required Landlord Disclosures.
Massachusetts state law limits how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit (one month's rent), when it must be returned (within 30 days after a tenant moves), and sets other restrictions on deposits. See Massachusetts Security Deposit Limits and Deadlines for more on the subject.
Tenants can sue landlords in small claims court for the return of their deposit, up to a dollar amount of $7,000. There is no limit for property damage caused by a motor vehicle. See Filing a Security Deposit Lawsuit in Massachusetts Small Claims Court for advice for tenants filing suit. Landlords defending a security deposit lawsuit should check out Massachusetts Landlord's Guide to Security Deposit Disputes in Small Claims Court.
State law regulates several rent-related issues, including late fees, the amount of notice (at least 30 days or the interval between days of payment in Massachusetts) landlords must give tenants to raise the rent, and how much time (14 days in Massachusetts) a tenant has to pay rent or move before a landlord can file for eviction. For details, see Massachusetts Late Fees, Termination for Nonpayment of Rent, and Other Rent Rules.
Tenants may withhold rent or exercise the right to "repair and deduct" if a landlord fails to take care of important repairs, such as a broken heater. For specifics, see Massachusetts Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent or "Repair and Deduct".
State laws specify when and how a landlord may terminate a tenancy. For example, a landlord may give a Massachusetts tenant at will who has received a second notice to pay rent or quit within 12 months an unconditional quit notice that gives the tenant 14 days to move out before the landlord can file for eviction. See State Laws on Unconditional Quit Terminations and State Laws on Termination for Violation of Lease for details on these types of termination notices in Massachusetts.
Several other landlord-tenant laws in Massachusetts affect both property owners and renters, including:
If you want to read the text of a law itself, such as state security deposit rules, you'll find citations in many of the articles and charts included in the State Landlord-Tenant Laws section of the Nolo site. To access the statutes, go to the Massachusetts Laws and Legal Information section of the Nolo site and find the link to your state laws.
If you just want to browse through the Massachusetts landlord-tenant law, you can find state statutes at Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 186, § § 1 to 29; ch. 186a, § § 1 to 6. You can search the table of contents for the landlord-tenant statutes. Or, if you don't know the exact statute number, you can enter a keyword that is likely to be in it, such as "nonpayment of rent."
In addition to accessing state laws via Nolo's website, Massachusetts statutes are available in many public libraries and in most law libraries that are open to the public (typically found in a county courthouse or at the state capitol or in a publicly-funded law school).
Cities and counties often pass local ordinances, such as health and safety standards, noise and nuisance regulations, and antidiscrimination rules that affect landlords and tenants. Many municipalities have websites —just search for the name of a particular city in Massachusetts and then do a search when you're on the site. For example, if you search for the noise ordinance in the City of Boston website, you'll easily find Boston's Loud Party Ordinance.
State and Local Government on the Net and Municode are good sources for finding local governments online. Also, your local public library or office of the city attorney, mayor, or city or county manager can provide information on local ordinances that affect landlords and tenants in Massachusetts.
While most landlords and tenants will primarily be concerned with state law in Massachusetts, several federal laws come into play. Congress has enacted laws, and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have adopted regulations, covering discrimination and landlord responsibilities to disclose environmental health hazards, such as lead-based paint.
The U.S. Code is the starting place for most federal statutory research. It consists of 50 separate numbered titles, each covering a specific subject matter. Most federal regulations are published in the Code of Federal Regulations ("CFR"), also organized by subject into 50 separate titles.
To access the U.S. Code and Code of Federal Regulations online, see Nolo's Federal Law Resources page. Also, the Cornell Legal Information Institute provides the entire U.S. Code as well as the Code of Federal Regulations. Finally, check USA.gov, the official U.S. website for government information.
Nolo's Laws and Legal Research page includes links to state and federal laws, explains how to research and understand statutes, and provides advice on finding local ordinances and court cases, including Supreme Court cases. To go further, check out Legal Research: How to Find & Understand the Law, by Stephen Elias and the Editors of Nolo (Nolo). This nontechnical book gives easy-to-use, step-by-step instructions on how to find legal information.