What You Need to Know before Renting an Apartment

1 May

Rental Basics – a two-part series
Metro® Boston, Publication Date: April 20, 2011
Metro® Boston, Publication Date: April 27, 2011

By Attorney  George Warshaw

I’m often asked by landlords, “what should I do before renting an apartment?” My initial advice is “fix up the apartment before you rent it, eliminate every possible code violation and document it.”

Massachusetts gives a tenant the right to withhold rent if there are sanitary or building code violations in the apartment that endanger the health or safety of its occupants. If these conditions exist and certain requirements are met, the tenant is entitled to a reduction in the rent and a defense in any legal action to evict the tenant.

Under current law, a landlord is responsible for defective conditions that exist at the inception of the tenancy, even if the landlord doesn’t know about the problems. If, for example, an apartment has drafty and loose windows or rodents at the time of the rental, the landlord is liable under the law even if the tenant doesn’t complain about it.

So, be a smart landlord; inspect your apartments and eliminate any problems before your tenants move in.

On Security Deposits and Last Month’s Rent

A security deposit is treated differently under Massachusetts law than a last month’s rent. Rent is the landlord’s money and can be spent by the landlord at any time. A security deposit is the tenant’s money and must be protected and preserved. A security deposit must be held in a special security deposit bank account in Massachusetts. The tenant is entitled to interest on both the last month’s rent and security, even though the landlord may freely spend the last month’s rent.

Landlords routinely make 2 major mistakes in handling security deposits.

If a landlord fails to give a tenant an “Apartment Condition Statement” requesting the tenant list any defects in the apartment, the landlord cannot later deduct for damage to the apartment from the security.

If a landlord fails to provide the tenant with the required bank and account information within 30 days of taking the deposit, the landlord forfeits the right to hold the deposit and has to return the deposit on the tenant’s request. © 2011 George Warshaw.

The foregoing is not intended as legal advice. Consult an attorney to see how or if the foregoing applies to you.

Attorney George Warshaw represents buyers and sellers of homes, condos and investment properties, prepares wills and trusts for inheriting real estate, and trusts that protect your children and pets. George welcomes new clients and questions at  george.warshaw@warshawlaw.com.


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