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Tenant Rights Every Renter in Boston Should Know

March 19, 2021
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Boston is a city of renters: according to Governing.com, more than 60% of the people living in the city rent an apartment. What’s more, Boston is known to be the fifth most expensive city in the US to rent, with an average of $3.9 per square foot per month.

If you’re considering renting an apartment in Boston, you should be aware of your rights as a tenant. You can check all the laws covering both landlord and tenant rights if you visit the Massachusetts Fair Housing Law website, but here’s a great summary of Boston tenant rights that you can use at a glance.

10 Boston Renter Rights

The Unit Must Be Habitable

Under the Massachusetts State Sanitary Code, a tenant is “entitled to a safe and habitable living environment throughout their entire tenancy”. The Code states that the property owner or manager must provide adequate water, heat, pest control services, snow removal, and maintenance services for the structure of the unit. The apartment must also be in good condition.

In Boston, it is the responsibility of your local Board of Health to enforce the Code.

Water

During the course of your stay, the landlord should provide enough water with adequate pressure to meet your daily needs. There are certain circumstances when you can be charged for water as long as it is clearly written in your rental agreement and your unit has a separate meter.

Under the Code, the water must be heated to a temperature between 110℉ and 130℉, however, you might need to pay for the fuel to power the heater. It is only necessary that the landlord provide a water heating system.

Heat

The unit must have a heating system that is in good working order. In general, the cost of heating is shouldered by the landlord unless otherwise specified in your lease. From September 16 to June 14, all rooms in your unit must be heated to at least 68℉ between 7:00 AM to 11:00 PM, and at least 64℉ at all other hours. The maximum allowable temperature in a unit is 78℉.

Considering that the city of Boston experiences temperatures below freezing during the winter months, you should make sure that your place has heated properly!

Unit Structural Maintenance

The landlord is required by law to maintain the foundation, floors, walls, doors, windows, ceiling, roof, and other structural components of the unit so that it is weather-appropriate, watertight, and rodent-proof. Tenants are not responsible for any cost of structural maintenance due to wear and tear or weather damage.

Pest Control Services

If there are two or more units in the building, the landlord is responsible for keeping the units free from insects, rodents, and other pests.

Property Manager Must Always Be Contactable

If your apartment has constant problems that make it uninhabitable under the State Sanitary Code and you are able to provide proof, you are entitled to contact your landlord immediately to communicate these issues.

Any communication regarding the state of the apartment must be placed in writing and dated. You should also keep a signed copy for your records. If possible, get the letter certified that it was received to prove that your landlord was notified of your complaints. This allows you to follow up with the request after a certain period of time.

When to Withhold Rent

Under state law, withholding rent is legal if the unit is uninhabitable after you have sent a notice to your landlord and they have not acted to remedy the problems. You can withhold part or even all of your rent.

The local health board can also step in to further assess if a home violates the Sanitary Code. If the health board finds violations, they can also order that rent be withheld until the landlord fixes these violations.

Make sure that you are updated on your monthly payments so that you will not be on the hook if you decide to withhold your rent. However, you also need to prove that you are not the cause of the issues in your apartment.

After all the violations have been repaired, you will need to pay rent, including the withheld amount, in full.

Deductions for Emergency Repairs

There are instances when tenants have the right to make repairs for themselves without waiting for a landlord’s response. Under state law, emergency repairs such as serious plumbing issues, structural damage, loss of heat, or loss of water should be handled within 24 hours by the landlord. If you don’t hear from the landlord within 24 hours, you are free to go ahead and fix these issues.

If you make any emergency repairs, you have the right to deduct future rents for up to four months. However, there are three conditions that must be met:

  1. An authorized representative from the local health board has certified that the conditions caused by the emergency problem are dangerous;
  2. You must have sent a notice to your landlord;
  3. The landlord has been given five days from the notice date to start the repairs.

The landlord will also have 14 days to complete all necessary repairs.

Early Termination of Lease

Under the Fair Housing Law, you can qualify for early lease termination without penalty if the landlord does not make any effort to provide a safe and habitable living space.

Before you can move out, you will still be expected to pay fair rental value for the time that you stayed in the apartment. You will also need to vacate the premises as soon as possible once you have given notice of your early termination.

Safety from Retaliation

Sometimes, there are landlords who take offense to tenants who pursue repairs on their own, and it might cause a problem for the tenant. However, state law protects tenants against retaliation from the landlord after a tenant contacts the local health board.

A landlord is not allowed to terminate the lease, increase the rent, or alter any provisions in the rental agreement within six months. If the landlord does any of these, you can file a formal complaint that they are retaliating against you.

Rent Increase Notice

During the contract of a lease, a landlord may not raise the rent for any reason. However, once the lease is about to expire, the landlord can increase the rent provided that they give the tenant written notice beforehand. This gives you a chance to decide whether you want to renew your lease under the terms of the new rent price.

Take note that since Massachusetts does not have a rent control law at the moment (although this is already being put to a vote), our landlord is free to raise the rent after your lease ends.

Security Deposit

State law requires that landlords only charge one month’s rent as a security deposit. This means that your landlord can only ask for the first month’s rent along with the deposit before you move in. Security deposits are generally collected during the lease signing, before the move-in date of the tenant.

However, depending on the terms of your lease, your landlord can also ask for last month’s rent, as well as payment for the purchase and installation of new locks.

Your landlord will be required to provide a receipt within 30 days of receiving your security deposit. The receipt states the bank where the security deposit is held, its address, and the account number. The receipt should also show the amount of the deposit as well as any interest it will acquire.

Failure to provide this receipt entitles you to the full refund of any security deposits. This also entitles you to break the lease early.

Property Manager Entry

Your landlord can enter the property for several reasons, including making repairs, inspection, enforcing a court order, or showing the place to a potential tenant. However, they must give you advance notice and have you on-premises if possible.

Legal Recourse

After your lease has ended, the security deposit must be returned to you within 30 days, including interest on the deposit. If any of the deposit has been spent, the landlord must provide an itemized statement of each expenditure.

If you have any issues, you can take your landlord to small claims court for the return of your security deposit. The maximum amount that you can be awarded is $7000. Of course, it is best to contact a local attorney to ask for the best legal recourse for any issues with your housing.

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