So you're a tenant in the Boston area and you want everything that's coming to you. We get that. To help, we've broken down a dozen facts you as a renter should know before you sign your next lease. They also apply even if you're already well into an agreement with a landlord. They cover everything from the fate of your security deposit to what happens if you can't make the next month's payment to your rights should you start a family while living in one of our fair region's many, many antiquated properties.
These facts apply to tenants throughout Massachusetts:
· Your landlord must give you a written receipt for your security deposit. He, she or it must then give you a second written receipt with the name and location of the financial institution in which the deposit is kept. That's because...
· ... you are entitled to have your security deposit gain interest and to get a statement each year from your landlord telling you the amount of interest your security deposit has earned. The same applies to a last month's rent check should your landlord require that as well.
· If within 30 days of your handing your security deposit over you don't get the written receipts, and your landlord doesn't tell you where the money was deposited, then you are entitled to get that money back, pronto, even if you continue to live in the apartment. Otherwise, you do not get the deposit back, plus interest, until you move out or the end of your lease arrives. (And, needless to say, your landlord can keep some of it to cover damages—that's what a security deposit is for.)
· As far as rent goes, we hope this goes without saying, but a landlord cannot increase your rent during the time of a lease. In other words, what you agree to is what the rent is per month for the duration of the lease. There is something called a tax escalator clause included in some leases that allows landlords to raise rents during the contract period. However ...
· ... at no time are you beholden to pay a higher rent just because the landlord says so. That is, you both have to agree to the increase first, which gives you the chance to say no and move out.
· Do you get a warning, though? Of course, if you signed a lease, the landlord must give you at least 30 days' notice of a rent increase (or, if your checks are sent in at a different interval than monthly, at least one of those intervals).
· Should you not get this sufficient notice, then the clock resets and you don't owe the increase—should you agree to pay it in the first place—until after the next 30-day cycle.
· Suppose your rent, increased or not, is late. We all have those months. Can your landlord charge you a late fee? Not unless he, she or it specifically specified such a penalty in the lease. If not, tough luck. Your landlord is welcome to send you a late-fee notice or to call you; but a penalty is out of the question. If tardiness is chronic, however, your landlord can initiate eviction proceedings. What then?
· The first thing to know about evictions is that only a judge can toss you from your apartment, not your landlord or your landlord's lawyers. They may tell you otherwise, but it's simply not the case. Housing judges evict in Massachusetts, not landlords and certainly not the Lionel Hutzes of the world.
· Should your landlord move to evict, you must be given a written notice (a notice to quit). The timeline for quitting—or fighting the eviction—then varies after, but it's usually 14 days from the date of the notice to quit. Again, though, you don't have to move. It just sets the wheels in motion for an eviction process that a judge then has to approve.
· One more thing, this one about lead paint. So many Boston-area properties are older than the hills and therefore slathered in lead paint. Mass. law requires requires property owners to remove or cover all lead-paint hazards in homes built before 1978, the year lead paint stopped being used so much in new construction, if there are any children under six living in them.
· And what if baby makes three while you're renting in a home built before 1978? It is the landlord's responsibility to either prove it doesn't have dangerous levels of lead—or to delead it at his, her or its expense, including relocating your family to comfortable digs while the work is done. Yup, it can be expensive to be a landlord in Greater Boston. But the rewards are oh so remunerative.
Special hat tip to the Massachusetts Legal Websites Project.
· Priciest, Cheapest Areas to Rent a Hub Apartment Right Now [Curbed Boston]
· Our Renters Week 2015 archive [Curbed Boston]