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Rent Payment Laws in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has a surprisingly long grace period for late fees—30 days—but doesn’t limit how much landlords can charge.

Massachusetts has a number of laws that deal with the logistics of paying rent, including a statewide 30-day grace period. Landlords are allowed to ask for last month’s rent upfront, but they’re banned from raising the rent in retaliation against a renter who filed a complaint against them. The state doesn’t allow rent control, either.

Late fees are prohibited unless the lease mentions them

Massachusetts prohibits landlords from charging a late fee for rent unless the lease explicitly mentions the amount and when the tenant will be charged.1 State law doesn’t cap the amount that a landlord can charge for late payments.

Landlords can’t charge a late fee for 30 days

Massachusetts provides tenants with an unusually long grace period. A tenant has up to 30 days from the due date to pay rent before the landlord can charge a late fee.2 Some landlords have tried to get around this by including a “discount clause” in the lease, where tenants get a small discount on rent if they pay on time. This is a disguised late payment penalty and is illegal under Massachusetts law.3

That said, a landlord is allowed to give the tenant a 14-day notice to quit for not paying rent as soon as the second of the month (assuming rent is due on the first). At that point, a tenant has a designated period of time to pay the rent before their landlord can begin eviction proceedings. So, while a tenant in Massachusetts can’t be charged a late fee for an entire month, they could still potentially be served eviction papers during that time if they didn’t pay rent.4

Landlords can only raise the rent at certain times

Massachusetts doesn’t have a law that limits the amount that rent can be increased at the end of a lease term. For a tenant without a lease, the rent can be raised at any time—as long as they receive notice of the increase at least one full rental period (but not less than 30 days) before it becomes effective.5 So, if a month-to-month tenant received a notice on Sept. 10th of a rent increase, they wouldn’t have to pay the higher rate until November.

Landlords can collect last month’s rent in advance

Massachusetts landlords are allowed to collect last month’s rent in advance when a tenant signs a new lease.6 But they’re required to pay the tenant any interest earned from that money at the end of each year—at a rate of either 5% or whatever the going rate is at the bank where they deposited the rent. Landlords don’t have to store the rent in a separate bank account. If the landlord collects the last month’s rent in advance, they have to give the tenant a receipt that contains:7

  • The amount paid
  • The date it was received
  • Its intended purpose as last month’s rent
  • The name of the person receiving the payment (and the landlord’s name, if they’re not the one accepting it)
  • A description of the rental
  • A statement that the tenant is entitled to interest on the rent payment
  • A statement that the tenant must provide their forwarding address at the end of the lease term where the interest can be sent

Landlords can’t raise rent in retaliation

Massachusetts prohibits a landlord from raising a tenant’s rent as punishment for engaging in protected activities. Specifically, a landlord can't raise a tenant’s rent in response to the following:8

  • Reporting violations of the sanitary code or other housing laws to the landlord, the landlord’s employees, or a housing inspector
  • Attending, joining, or organizing a tenant’s group
  • Filing a lawsuit against a landlord or defending against an eviction case
  • Filing a discrimination complaint against the landlord with a government agency

If a landlord tries to raise the rent within six months of a tenant taking one of the above actions, then the law automatically assumes it is retaliation. If the tenant sues, the landlord has the burden to prove in court that they weren’t retaliating against the tenant. If more than six months have passed, a tenant can still claim retaliation—but they have the burden of proving it instead of the landlord. If a landlord is found guilty of retaliation, a tenant is entitled to damages.

[1] M.G.L. c. 186, §15B(1)(c)

[2] M.G.L. c. 186, §15B(1)(c)

[3] Patriquin v. Atamian, Boston Housing Court, SP-19648-K (King, J., Aug. 27, 1981)

[4] M.G.L. c. 186, §11 (leases); M.G.L. c. 186, §12 (tenancies at will)

[5] G.L. c. 186, §§12 -13

[6] M.G.L. c. 186, §15B(1)(b)(ii)

[7] M.G.L. c. 186, §15B(2)(a)

[8] M.G.L.A. 186 §18

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.