What are the Types of Tenancy in Massachusetts?
Around 35% of Massachusetts residents rent somewhere to live. This figure is about average for the whole of the United States, although it hides differences based on age, socio-economic group and location. For example, older or retired people are more likely to have bought their own home, but for those who are aged 30 or less, the percentage of those who rent jumps to more than 65%. Larger centers like Boston also have a greater number of renters compared to homeowners, while smaller towns and rural areas this situation is reversed.
The relationship between landlords and tenants is a very important one and whether you are a landlord or a tenant yourself it is wise to know the legal responsibilities and rights you have regarding rental properties in this state.
Whether you are contemplating renting out your own property or becoming a tenant, the first thing you will want to know is the type of tenancy involved. In Massachusetts, there are four main types of tenancy recognized. These are:
- tenancy with a written lease;
- tenancy at will;
- tenancy at sufferance; and
- tenancy by regulation.
Each of these will be considered separately below.
Tenancy with a written lease
This is the second most common type of tenancy after tenancies at will. A tenancy with a written lease involves a signed written agreement between the landlord and the tenant. Most leases of this type are for a fixed period, the ‘term’ of the lease. Leases of a year are the most common term. The lease may be extendable or non-extendable, as is explained further below.
The lease determines the term of the lease, how much the rent for the tenancy will cost and any other rules, such as whether pets are allowed. Rents are typically stated as a monthly rate, but if it is three monthly or some other rate, this will be included in the lease as well as when rents should be paid.
The advantage of this type of lease for both tenant and landlord is that it means more certainty of occupancy. The landlord doesn’t have to keep looking for a new tenant and the tenant knows when the lease expires so can plan accordingly.
As far as rights and responsibilities are concerned, the main rules of a written lease are that once the amount of rent has been established, this cannot be raised within the term of the lease. The landlord cannot evict the tenant within the lease period unless the tenant has broken the agreement, e.g. failed to pay the monthly rent on time or has damaged the property or has been found keeping pets on the property when this was expressly prohibited by the lease agreement.
At the end of the lease period, the landlord may ask the tenant to leave and if there has been no other lease signed, then the tenant has no right to stay on. However, the lease may be the self-extending kind. A self-extending lease automatically rolls over at the end of the lease period and there is no requirement to renew the lease by either the landlord or the tenant. The tenant is not locked into continuing the lease, however, as there will be a clause in the lease that states at what time before the end of the lease a tenant will have to give notice in writing that they do not want to continue with the tenancy and will leave by the end date. It is common for a month’s notice to be required if a tenant wants to discontinue a self-extending lease.
Landlords should be careful to make it known in a written lease whether the lease is self-extending or not and prospective tenants should read through the terms of the lease to determine what type of lease it is before signing the agreement.
The other type of written lease is one with an option to renew. With this type of lease, the tenant is given the option to state whether they want to renew the lease agreement for a further term. If they intend to leave at the end of the lease period, they don’t have to do anything, but if they want to renew the lease, they will need to give notice of their wishes before the lease expires, a month’s notice being a typical period required.
If the lease is not self-extending and doesn’t provide an option to renew, then it could mean that the landlord just hasn’t thought about the lease terms very well or has already made plans to discontinue renting the property out at the end of the period, e.g. because it is to be sold.
Tenancy at will
Tenancies at will are the most common type of tenancy in Massachusetts. This is a tenancy arrangement in which the landlord does not specify any particular end date and typically asks you to pay by the month in advance. Even if you have signed a lease agreement, but the landlord didn’t state the date of the end of the lease period, then this omission makes it a tenancy at will, not a tenancy with a written lease. If you wish to stay on in a rental property at the end of a lease period, and the landlord doesn’t issue a new lease, but agrees to you staying on, then this becomes a tenancy at will.
Tenancies at will may be entered into by oral or written agreement. As long as rent is paid and any other rules of the tenancy are adhered to, the tenant has the right to privacy while occupying the property. This means that the landlord cannot enter the tenant’s rented property when they feel like it without the tenant’s permission, except in emergencies or to make repairs to the property.
Both the tenant and the landlord can terminate the tenancy by giving written notice in advance. For example, if it is a monthly rental period, then the notice should be given a month in advance.
Tenant at sufferance
You become a tenant at sufferance if you stay on in a rental property and the landlord doesn’t want you living there. The landlord may have given you written notice of the termination of your lease if you are a tenant at will or because you haven’t paid your rent or broken a rule in a written lease. You may have stayed on after a lease had expired and it wasn’t a self-extending lease.
Despite the fact that you are a tenant at sufferance and not wanted by your landlord, you still have rights as a tenant. The landlord must still ask your permission to enter the property just like when you were a bona fide tenant. You cannot be evicted unless the landlord has applied for eviction through the court and this has been agreed to by a judge.
If you do not have your landlord’s permission to stay in your apartment after your lease or agreement ends or after your landlord terminates your tenancy by sending you a notice to quit, you are a tenant at sufferance. The landlord, on the other hand, does not have to give you notice of their intentions to seek an eviction, but once a hearing has been scheduled, you must be notified in advance and you have the right to seek legal help and defend your right to not be evicted and even, in certain circumstances, to sue the landlord for negligence. You should certainly seek legal assistance from an attorney if it comes to this.
Tenancy by regulation
You are a tenant by regulation if you rent a mobile home to live in or rent public or subsidized housing. The terms of the tenancy are established and protected by regulation and may provide you with more security as a tenant than if you were a tenant with a written lease or a tenant at will.