Off-Campus Student Services

Legal Questions

Before moving into an apartment and submitting a security deposit, look over your lease agreement, check for objectionable clauses, and learn the exact responsibilities of your landlord in any given circumstance.


Security Deposits

Most landlords charge a security deposit, which the renter must pay prior to moving in. The security deposit cannot exceed the amount of the monthly rent.

Before the renter moves in, the landlord can only collect:

  • The first and last month’s rent
  • One month’s security deposit
  • The purchase and installation costs for a lock and key

Renters' Insurance

Most policies will protect your belongings from damage or theft and might cover temporary living expenses if your rental unit is damaged to the point of being uninhabitable.

For additional information, visit the American Renters Association or National Student Services Inc.


Landlord Responsibilities

As stated in “A Massachusetts Consumer Guide to Tenant Rights and Responsibilities,” published by the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation in May 2007:

You are entitled to a safe and habitable living environment throughout your entire tenancy. The State Sanitary Code protects the health, safety and well-being of tenants and the general public (105 CMR 410). The local Boards of Health enforce the Code. (Note: In Boston, it is the Housing Inspection Department.)

For more information, contact the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs.

Repairs

Compile a list of all needed repairs and cleanings prior to signing your lease. Be sure your landlord agrees to the conditions listed and signs a written agreement to this effect. This will create a written contract, thereby guaranteeing said services.

Breaking a Lease Agreement

You cannot break a legally binding contract without proving due cause. If something has made you unhappy in your living situation, you should investigate the source of that problem (e.g., a roommate conflict, unhappiness in your academic and/or personal life).

Before deciding to break your lease, meet with your landlord to discuss your situation. If your name remains on the lease, you are still responsible for that space (rent, damages, etc.) until your lease ends.

As stated in “A Massachusetts Consumer Guide to Tenant Rights and Responsibilities,” published by the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation in May 2007:

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that when a landlord fails to maintain a dwelling in habitable condition, a tenant may properly withhold a portion of the rent from the date the landlord has notice of this breach of warrant of habit-ability. Rent withholding can be a useful tool to force repairs, but it is a serious step and should be dealt with carefully. You may want to get legal advice before withholding your rent since the landlord may try to evict you for non-payment of rent.

Circumstances in which you may withold a portion of your rent:

  • You have appealed to your landlord in writing to make the necessary repairs
  • Your local Board of Health has inspected your apartment, found health code violations, and notified your landlord
  • You are current in your rent until the time your landlord learns of the problem, you are not the cause of the problem, and the unsanitary conditions do not require the apartment to be vacated to make repairs

Deciding how much to withhold is based on each situation. You need only pay the fair rent for your unit given its defective condi­tion. Once the landlord has repaired all defects, the tenant must pay all withheld rent.


Objectionable Clauses

Not every clause in the rental agreement can be enforced; some are illegal.

Objectionable clauses include:

  • Penalties for late payment of rent, unless the rent is more than 30 days late
  • Any terms giving the landlord unrestricted entry into the premises
  • Any waiver of the landlord’s implied warranty of habitability
  • Any waiver of notices required by statute for eviction; or any terms giving the landlord the right to evict the tenant without resorting to judicial procedures