I just moved to Boston and I have been offered an apartment at an incredibly high rent. Is that legal?
Yes. With very few exceptions there is no limit on what a landlord can charge.
Once I move in, is there a limit to future rent increases?
No. With very few exceptions rents can be raised without limitation. A lease can protect you from unexpected increases during its term.
My landlord raised my rent six months ago. Now she wants to raise it again. Can she do that?
If you have a lease, the rent cannot be increased until the lease ends. If you are a tenant-at-will, your landlord can increase your rent at any time by serving you with a valid 30-day notice.
What can I do when my tenant does not pay a rent increase?
If a tenant does not pay a rent increase but continues to pay the old rent, the landlord can start eviction proceedings for failure to pay a valid rent increase. In the interim, the landlord should accept the old rent “for use and occupancy only."
What can a tenant do if the landlord does not accept the rent payment?
Tenants should protect themselves from possible non-payment evictions under these circumstances by creating a record of willingness to tender payment. Setting the money aside and sending a letter by certified mail (return receipt requested) informing the landlord that the rent is available is a good step.
I expect my tenant to pay the rent on the first of every month. She never does. May I charge her a late fee?
A late fee may only be charged when there is a written agreement in effect that allows it. Such a fee may not be charged until the rent is a minimum of 30 days late.
I’ve lived here for three years and now the landlord says she wants me to pay a security deposit. Can she do that?
Yes, under most circumstances, she can. However, if you have a lease, and the lease does not have a security deposit provision, then the landlord cannot ask you for a security deposit until she offers you a new tenancy.
Who owns my building?
If your building has four or more apartments, the landlord must post his name and address or the name and address of the management company in the building. If there is no posting, check with the City of Boston’s Assessing Department to find out who is being sent the tax bills.
Another tenant in my building puts his wet garbage in paper bags, which has attracted scavengers. What can I do?
Garbage must be put out in double-ply plastic garbage bags or in barrels. The Code Enforcement Police at (617) 635-4896 can ticket people who don’t comply. If they find evidence that the tenant is at fault, he or she will be ticketed. Otherwise, the ticket will go to the landlord.
Q: My apartment really needs to be painted. Is my landlord responsible?
A landlord is only required to paint an apartment if a violation of the State Sanitary Code is involved. Painting for aesthetic purposes is up to the tenant but should not be done without the landlord’s written approval.
My landlord is having work done on my building. How can I find out if he has a permit?
If a permit is required it should be posted and visible from the street. If a permit is not posted, call the Inspectional Services Department to find out if one is necessary.
What time in the morning can workers begin working? What time in the evening do they have to stop? How about weekends?
Regarding construction hours, workers can begin work at 7:00 AM and have to stop by 6:00 PM on weekdays. To do work after hours and on weekends, they are required to have a Special Construction Permit issued by the Inspectional Services Department. There are no particular criteria prohibiting the issuance of this type of permit.
Can my landlord shut off utilities while having work done?
Yes, temporarily, if it is necessary or safer to work that way.
My water has been shut off because my landlord didn’t pay the bill. What can I do?
If the landlord won’t correct the situation, you should enter into a payment agreement with Boston Water & Sewer. The payments can be legally deducted from your rent until the account is no longer in arrears.
My neighbor above me plays music at all hours of the night. It is very disturbing, what can I do?
If the noise is coming from an apartment that is owned by the landlord, it is his responsibility to do something about it. He might even have to evict the noisy tenant if a reasonable solution cannot be worked out.
My neighbor in the building next door plays music at all hours of the night and it’s depriving me of sleep. What can I do?
Call the police and complain. Your landlord isn’t responsible unless he owns the neighboring building and therefore has some control.
I am a full-time college freshman. Is it legal for me to move into an apartment in Boston with my four friends, all of whom are also full-time undergrads? They have signed a lease for an apartment in Boston and I was told that it would be all right for me to move in with them, as long as my name doesn’t appear on the lease. Is that true?
No, the maximum number of full-time undergraduate college students who may share a dwelling in Boston is four (4). Aside from violating the Boston Zoning Code, it would be a violation of the lease, possibly putting you at risk of having to move out and putting your roommates at financial risk if the four of them have to pay the full rent.
Real Estate Brokers
A real estate broker charged me a fee for an apartment that doesn’t have everything she promised. Where can I file a complaint?
Call the Board of Registration of Real Estate Brokers and Salespeople at (617) 727-2373. The Board issues and renews licenses and accepts and investigates complaints against brokers and salespeople.
My lease runs out in four months but I want to move now. How can I break my lease?
If you break the lease, the landlord can hold you responsible for any unpaid rent under the lease and/or for the costs associated with finding a tenant to replace you.
A landlord says I must have someone co-sign my lease. Can s/he do that?
Yes s/he can, if s/he has a legitimate concern about income level or credit history.
Which is better? Signing a lease or being a tenant-at-will?
It depends on your needs. A lease binds you for the lease term but protects you against rent increases for that time period. A tenancy-at-will allows you to move out after giving a written 30-day notice but also allows the landlord to increase the rent with a 30-day notice. Tenancy-at-will agreements are often verbal but can be written.
I have to leave town for the summer. Can I sublet my apartment?
Under most standard written rental agreements, a tenant cannot sublet without the permission of the landlord.
Do I have to sign a lease or can I be a tenant-at-will?
This is up to your landlord. S/he has a right to insist on a lease if s/he wants one.
I signed a lease three months ago. My landlord has not returned a copy to me. Am I entitled to one?
Tenants are entitled to a signed copy of the lease within 30 days of signing it. A landlord who has agreed to the lease but failed to return a copy within 30 days can be punished by a fine of up to $300.
My landlord has asked me to renew my lease now, but my current lease doesn’t expire for another 4 months. Can he do that?
Yes. The good news is that you don’t have to sign a new lease way in advance of the end of your current lease. The bad news is that if you don’t, the landlord may find a new tenant to take your place at the end of the lease.
My tenant put new locks on her apartment door. Am I allowed to demand a key?
A tenant is not required to supply a key to the landlord, unless the lease or written tenancy-at-will agreement states that she must do so. However, tenants are obligated to allow the landlord reasonable access to do repairs, especially in the case of an emergency.
Can my landlord go into my apartment without telling me in advance to do repairs?
Unless there is an emergency, the landlord must give you reasonable notice. The landlord may go into an apartment to inspect it, do repairs or show it to others, if this is stated in the lease.
I’ve had a parking space for several years. All of a sudden the landlord says I can’t park there anymore. Can she do that?
Yes. If your parking space was provided by informal arrangement, it can be terminated with a written 30-day notice. However, if parking is a service included in your lease, it cannot be taken away until the lease expires.
My landlord is angry with me because I recently complained to the Inspectional Services Department about the bad condition of my apartment. Now she is trying to evict me. Can she do that?
By law, there is a presumption of retaliation if the landlord tries to evict you within six months of your official complaint. In order to overcome this presumption, the landlord would have to prove that she would have taken the same actions in the same way and at the same time regardless of your complaint about the conditions.
Q: I have mice in my apartment. I told my landlord but he hasn’t responded. What can I do?
The occupant of a one-unit dwelling is responsible for the extermination of insects, mice, rats and skunks. The owner of a dwelling with two or more units is responsible for the extermination of insects, mice, rats, and skunks. Call the Inspectional Services Department (ISD) at (617) 635-5322. If your apartment is infested, ISD will order your landlord to exterminate.