General Information

Lease Contracts & Security Deposits

Lease Contracts

A lease is a contract between a tenant and a landlord that states the date the tenancy begins, the date the tenancy ends, and the obligations of the landlord and tenant.

Be sure you know which kind of lease you have; you might think it has ended while your landlord continues to charge you.

Types of leasing contracts:

  • a fixed-term lease which concludes on the date specified and can be extended if agreed to by the landlord.
  • a self-extending lease which renews itself each year until either the landlord or the tenant decides to cancel the lease.
  • a Tenancy At Will lease (TAW) in which a landlord rents to the tenant from rental period to rental period.  This tenancy may be terminated by either the tenant or the landlord by a written notice given by either party to the other before the first day of any rental period effective on the last day of that rental period, or thirty days after such notice (whichever is longer).
  • Subleasing is an agreement between a residential tenant and someone else allowing the subtenant to live in the tenant's dwelling for a portion of the original lease term, while the tenant is away. It is a common practice for students to sublease their apartment or a room in their rental house while they go home for the summer. Subleasing allows the tenant to collect a portion of their rent while they are not living in the dwelling. Keep in mind that your name will remain on the lease, so you will be ultimately responsible for rent and damages.

View a sample lease form or a sample sublet form. Sample leases can also be found by visiting the Greater Boston Real Estate Board website or calling (617) 423-8700.

Signing the Lease
When you have found the accommodation you wish to rent, discuss the terms of the lease with the landlord. It is to your advantage to have a lease in writing. A written lease protects both you and your landlord by specifying the rights and obligations of each party. Any verbal agreements are difficult to enforce or to prove if problems develop. Read the lease carefully before signing! It is a legally binding document. If there are any terms or conditions that seem unreasonable or unclear, discuss them with the landlord. You may wish to take the lease to a legal aid service or an attorney to have it checked over for you. Any changes or additions to the lease should be agreed to by both you and your landlord. They should appear in the lease before it is signed, and should be initialed by both you and the landlord. A rider or addendum may be attached to the lease and should be signed and dated by both parties. If the landlord has agreed to make repairs, for example, this statement should be included in the rider. Some landlords require a co-signer on a lease if a student is under 21 years of age and has no prior rental references. After you have signed the lease, the landlord may mail it to whomever you designate (usually a parent) to obtain another signature. The co-signer will be held responsible if the rent is not paid or if any problems arise. Keep accurate records of any initial transactions or negotiations, and make sure that you keep a copy of the signed lease.

Some conditions written into a lease include:

  • Rent: The amount of the rent and the date it is due are stated in the lease. Late rent penalties are illegal while discounts for early payment are not.
  • Compliance with Governmental Health and Safety Codes: The lease should state the landlord's legal obligation to ensure that the unit complies with all applicable health and safety codes and regulations.
  • Other Charges: The landlord may require the first and last month's rent in advance, a security deposit equal to the first month's rent, and an amount to cover the cost of replacing the locks. S/he may not request any other deposits.
  • Maintenance & Repairs: You are required to pay only for the damages caused to the apartment by yourself or your guests. Reasonable wear or tear does not constitute such damage.
  • Subletting: A sublet is an agreement between you and another person whereby s/he agrees to occupy your apartment before the lease expires. You may not legally sublet without the agreement of your landlord. If you are a sub-tenant, you have the same legal rights and obligations as the original tenant, and the landlord may not impose any additional costs or deposits above those which were legally charged to the original tenant. Be sure the original tenant has the legal right to sublet the apartment. View sample sublet form >
  • Notices In Writing: In order for information to be officially received by you or your landlord, it must be in writing, sent by certified or registered mail, and signed by the recipient. You can also hand deliver the written message and have it and a copy signed.

A complete summary of the points that should be covered in the lease:

  • Names and addresses of landlord and tenant(s).
  • Description of the property being rented.
  • The number of people allowed to live in the unit.
  • Dates covered by the lease, when and if the lease can be renewed, and when and how the lease can be ended. If the lease is terminated early, is there a penalty?
  • Are you allowed to sublet?
  • What is the amount of the rent and when is it due? Is there any grace period if not paid on this date? Is there a penalty for late payment? When can the rent be increased?
  • Are utilities included in the rent? If some are included, they should be specified.
  • Who is responsible for maintenance and repairs? How will these costs be handled? Are you expected to pay any part?
  • Has the landlord reference his/her obligation to ensure that the unit complies with all applicable health and safety codes?
  • Have you called the Board of Health to determine any history of complaints?
  • Is extermination part of the maintenance? How often will it be done? Who will pay for it?
  • Are pets allowed? If so, is there an extra charge?
  • If the accommodation is furnished, a list of the furniture and its condition should be included in the lease. Who is responsible for the furnishings in case of fire or theft?
  • Who has the right of entry to the rental unit? May the owner enter for inspection or repairs?
  • Is a security deposit required? If so, how much? When and under what conditions will it be returned?
  • If renting a room within a house, what areas may you use and when? Are there any kitchen restrictions? What are the guest policies?
  • How would the landlord provide notice to vacate?
  • Is a parking space included?  Fee or no fee? Have it written into the lease.
  • Make sure all repairs are written into the lease before you sign it.

Illegal Lease Clauses
When a lease clause violates a law or denies a tenant a right provided by local law, the clause has no legal effect. You may encounter clauses such as the following:

  • "Tenant will pay all attorney and court fees" - The judge decides who pays the court costs. Tenants rarely have to pay their landlord's attorney fees.
  • "Waiver of liability" - A lease cannot limit the landlord's financial responsibility if a tenant or guest is injured because of the landlord's negligence or failure to make repairs.
  • "Waiver of warranty of habitability or duty to repair" - The court will not enforce a clause that requires the tenant to make repairs of housing code violations. It is the landlord's responsibility.
  • "Tenant waives the right to a jury trial" - When faced with eviction, a tenant has the right to a trial by jury or judge. This right cannot be waived by a lease.

Be sure to get a copy of the signed lease from your landlord and keep it in a safe place. You may need it for future reference if any problems occur during the term of the lease.

Negotiating a lease
Finally, remember a lease can be negotiated. You should not sign a lease containing sections that are so one-sided that they jeopardize your rights. To change a lease, cross out the sections you wish to delete, initial the cross outs, and have your landlord initial before you sign the lease. Additional provisions should be written out, dated, and signed by you and your landlord. Make sure all changes are noted on all copies of the lease. Read the document carefully. Do not hesitate to question closely any section of the lease that puzzles you. Remember, only that which is in writing is legally binding (because an oral contract/lease is only as good as the paper it is written on). Be sure to retain a copy of the lease for your records.

Apartment Condition Statement
Once your landlord receives your security deposit, s/he must provide you with a list of any existing damages or certified violations of the Sanitary Housing Code. If you agree that the list is accurate, you must sign and return it to the landlord within fifteen days. It is best to hold the list for the entire fifteen-day period because some potential damages like a leaky roof, are not readily noticeable. If you discover any existing defects which are not on the list, add them before you sign the sheet. Keep a copy of the list.

Discuss any remodeling like painting or wallpapering, along with a list of the project costs, with your landlord. Sometimes landlords do agree to reimburse tenants for materials necessary for improving the apartment. However, when you move, the repair of any damages from what you consider an improvement could be deducted from your security deposit

You are a tenant-at-will if you have a verbal agreement with your landlord, have not renewed your lease but continue to pay rent, have signed a lease which does not have a termination date, or have signed a tenancy-at-will agreement. Your rights, like those of tenants with a lease, are covered under government statutes and housing codes. It is important to request a letter from your landlord stating the amount of rent agreed upon and the date it is due. You should also be provided with a receipt for any charges paid, such as a security deposit. Your landlord cannot request deposits greater than those for tenants with a lease. There are some conditions of tenancy-at-will that are different from those of a tenancy with a lease. Your landlord may raise your rent if you are notified thirty days in advance. If you are behind in your rent, your landlord may send you a notice to quit, and your agreement will be terminated within fourteen days. Also, you or your landlord may terminate your tenancy for no cause with thirty days written notice. This may be convenient if you don't want the apartment for an entire year, but there always exists the possibility of your landlord terminating your tenancy at any time.

Boarding House Tenancy
If you have lived in a rooming or lodging house for more than thirty days and less than three months, you are entitled to seven days notice of termination of your tenancy. If you have lived in a rooming or lodging house for three consecutive months, you are a tenant-at-will.

Security Deposits

A security deposit equal to one month's rent protects your landlord in case you damage the apartment or move out without paying rent.

When your landlord receives your deposits for the last month's rent + security deposit, s/he is required by law to put the security deposit amount in an interest-bearing account within thirty days of taking the deposit.  The landlord is required to identify the bank, address, account number, and the amount of the deposit held; and pay 5% interest or any lesser amount of interest actually received from the bank where the deposit is held, if the tenant resides in the unit for at least one year. There is no requirement for a landlord to escrow the last month's rental amount in a separate interest-bearing account.  However, yearly interest is paid on the last month's rent as well.

You must receive a statement of the account once a year on the date your lease began and are entitled to the interest earned. You may receive it in full or deduct the amount from your rent. If the building is sold during your tenancy, the previous owner must transfer the account to the new owner.

Your deposit must be returned to you within thirty days of your moving out. If any deductions are made, a statement sworn to under the pains and penalties of perjury listing the damages for which the landlord is deducting, along with documentation showing the actual or estimated costs of these repairs such as bills, receipts, or invoices must be provided to the tenant. The deductions must be reasonably priced, and cover only damages beyond normal wear and tear caused by your tenancy. "Normal wear and tear" is defined as damage or deterioration caused by ordinary and reasonable use of the property. A landlord should expect to have to repaint the walls every few years, especially the kitchen. Furniture normally becomes worn with age; walls acquire small nail holes; carpets become worn. The law requires the landlord to pay for ordinary wear and tear. You must pay for accidental or intentional damages and for cleaning made necessary by extreme dirtiness. Read your lease carefully to ensure you are clear about these expectations!

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