This will be my first entry in a series of nine blog posts aimed at helping renters (and landlords) in the Boston area understand the rights and obligations of tenants (sometimes referred to as renters or lessees).  In this Handbook, I will approach issues that you may face in dealing with a rental in the city, or in the surrounding towns of Newton and Brookline.  The topics will be targeted as follows:

  1. Types of Tenancy
  2. Required Funds for Moving
  3. Paying the Rent
  4. Tenants' Rights
  5. State Sanitary Code
  6. Tenants' Remedies
  7. Eviction Requirements
  8. Moving Out
  9. Finding an Apartment (I will cover this topic last as we have already passed September 1st)

Today, we will cover Types of Tenancy so that you understand in a more nuanced way how the following rights and expectations apply to you in the City of Boston.

A Tenancy at Will (TAW) describes a rental of an apartment or a room wherein the tenant does not have a lease but pays rent periodically (typically monthly). The agreement may be either written or verbal and can be easily terminated by providing notice.  The landlord or the tenant may terminate the agreement by giving advance notice of one full rental period. Neither a landlord or a tenant need to provide a reason for ending the agreement. The landlord may also increase your rent at the end of a rental period as they please.

Most tenancies in Boston, Brookline, and Newton require a renter and landlord to sign a mutually agreeable Lease, which can have a Fixed Term, or be Self-Extending. In signing a lease, you are agreeing to rent a particular apartment or room for a specified period of time (usually 12 months). With this type tenancy, the landlord cannot alter your rent until the end of the lease term.  You are legally obligated to pay your rent for the duration of the rental term. In most cases, the landlord has a duty to mitigate his or her loss by finding a tenant to replace you, but they also may have “lease break” terms or fees specified in the lease.  A landlord cannot attempt to evict you unless you violate the terms of the lease agreement.

Whether a lease or a tenancy-at-will, the tenant must pay rent, follow the rules agreed upon with the landlord, and accept responsibility for any damage to the apartment that is more than just “normal wear and tear” (whether caused by the tenant or caused by a guest of the tenant). The landlord must provide an apartment that is safe, clean, and in compliance with the Massachusetts Sanitary Code, and must live up to any promises in the lease or rental agreement. In either kind of tenancy, the tenant has a right to occupy the apartment and the landlord may only enter under certain circumstances. The landlord must arrange with the tenant in advance to enter the apartment to make repairs, to inspect the condition of the apartment, or to show the apartment to prospective tenants, buyers or real estate agents. However, the landlord may enter an apartment without a tenant’s approval if there is a mechanical/repair emergency that has the potential to damage the whole building, or if it appears that the tenant has abandoned the apartment.

It is important to note that if your housing is subsidized by a non-profit or government housing program, you may have different rights and obligations than those outlined above.

That's all for now. Check back next week for Part 2 of the Handbook: Required Funds for Moving.