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Tenant Resources

A tenant with a lease is one who signs a lease to rent a particular apartment for a specific time period. A lease, or rental contract between the landlord (lessor) and the tenant (lessee), is a written document that legally binds both parties. The tenant is obligated to pay a stated rent at a given interval, usually monthly, in return for a safe and habitable apartment.

A tenant-at-will is one who occupies a rented premises without a lease, but pays rent at an interval that is agreeable to both the lessor and lessee. The agreement for the tenancy-at-will may be either written or verbal. Either the landlord or tenant may terminate this arrangement by giving written notice 30 days or one full rental period in advance, whichever is longer. No reason is required to terminate. If rent is paid the first of each month, notice should be given prior to the first day of the month. However, either the landlord or the tenant may be able to give notice as late as the first day of the month it-self. To ensure that your notice has been received, send it by certified mail, return receipt requested, and by regular mail.

The attractiveness of a tenancy-at-will is that you are not obligated to stay for a prearranged period of time should you encounter a situation that would require you to move out on short notice. However, it is usually preferable to have a written lease, because once you have signed a lease, both parties are obligated, by law, to fulfill it as it is written. Be certain that you have a copy of the lease that has been signed by you, your land-lord, and a witness.

Subletting is taking over an unexpired lease from the previous tenant. Some tenants sublet an apartment for the summer only and plan to return to the apartment in September. Other tenants sublet an apartment to which you have the option to renew the lease when it expires.

A tenant may not sublet without the landlord's written consent in a subletting clause. Before agreeing to sublet, be sure that it is a legal arrangement.

Security Deposit and Last Month’s Rent

A security deposit and the last month's rent are not the same thing, nor are they inter-changeable. Last month's rent is the pre-payment to the landlord for the last month of tenancy. A security deposit is a deposit of money to the landlord to ensure that responsibilities of the lease will be performed (e.g., paying for damage caused by the tenant). The amount of the last month's rent and the security deposit each cannot be greater than one month's rent. If the landlord raises the rent, s/he can require you to increase both the amount of the last month's rent and the amount of the security deposit to equal the new rent. A landlord cannot transfer one for the use of the other without the tenant's consent. Likewise, the tenant may not use the security deposit as the last month's rent.

Upon receiving a last month's rent and/or a security deposit, the landlord must give you a receipt for each prepayment. The following information must be included: the amount; the date on which it was received; its specific intended use; the name of the person receiving it; if an agent is involved, the name of the landlord for whom the rent is collected; and the signature of the landlord or agent.

If last month's rent is collected, the landlord must also give you a statement indicating that you are entitled to interest; a statement indicating that you should provide the landlord with a forwarding address where interest is to be sent at the termination of tenancy; and a description of the rented apartment.

Payment of Interest

Interest is payable to you each year on the anniversary date of your tenancy. On each anniversary date, the landlord must give you or send you a statement indicating the amount of interest owed you for your security deposit and/or last month's rent. At the same time the landlord must give or send the interest due or a notice that you may deduct the interest from the next rental payment. If within 30 days of the anniversary date you do not receive such notice, you may deduct the interest from your next rental payment. You do not have to live in your apartment for more than 12 months to be eligible for accrued interest on last month's rent. If your tenancy terminates before the anniversary date, you are still entitled to all interest accrued on the last month's rent. (Interest does not accrue for the month for which the last month's rent is used.) However, the security deposit must be held for a year or more from the commencement of tenancy for you to be eligible for interest on your security deposit. Interest on both last month's rent and security deposit must be paid within 30 days of the date of termination.

Note: The landlord is required to pay interest on both last month's rent and security deposit. The law requires a landlord to hold a security deposit in a separate, interest-bearing account in a Massachusetts bank. (The landlord does not have to maintain a separate account for each deposit.) Within 30 days of having received the security de-posit, the landlord must give you a receipt identifying the bank's name and address, the account number, and the amount of the deposit. If the landlord fails to comply, you are entitled to immediate return of your security deposit.

Legal Assistance

  • Lawyers for Affordable Justice - Lawyers for Affordable Justice is an initiative by Boston College Law School, Boston University School of Law, and Northeastern University School of Law to help their graduates start successful solo practices that serve low to moderate income clients in the Boston area.
  • Mass Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service - The Massachusetts Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service is one of the largest legal referral services in the nation, which makes it easy to connect you to the right lawyer in your area.
  • Mass Law Forum

Renters Insurance

It is recommended that you take out a renter's insurance policy. Renter's insurance will protect the assessed value of your personal property in many instances, such as theft, fire, and flood. Insurance policies can be as little as ten dollars a month, and are well worth the investment.

Insurance Providers

Many insurance companies offer renter's insurance. If you or your family already have an insurance policy, check with your insurance company to see if they can offer you rental insurance. If not, you may try some of the companies below.