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Notice Requirements to End a Lease in Massachusetts

Depending on the type of lease, Massachusetts landlords and tenants may have to give 30 days’ notice to end it—or none at all.

In Massachusetts, many tenants have a fixed-term lease, allowing them to remain in a rental unit for a set period of time before the lease terminates. However, some tenants will find themselves in so-called “month-to-month” or “week-to-week” tenancies. In these instances, if either the landlord or tenant wants to end the lease for good, they are required by state law to provide a certain amount of advance notice.

Written lease terms overrule everything else

If a tenant has a written lease, there is a good chance that they know exactly when their lease is up: the lease says so. If a lease says it expires on July 31st (for example), then that’s it—past July 31st, the tenant is overstaying the lease. At this point, the landlord is free to begin eviction proceedings against the tenant. The landlord has no special requirement to inform a tenant that their lease is about to expire, because the tenant should know this already, by reference to their lease.

Similarly, a tenant does not need to legally inform their landlord that they’re moving out at the end of their lease. That said, of course, considering that both landlords and tenants sometimes want to renew a lease when it expires, it’s always a good idea to reach out to the other party and let them know your plans when a lease is coming to an end.

Some fixed-term leases may contain clauses that renew the lease automatically when it expires. These are legal, and tenants should be aware if their lease has such a clause—it will require them to give their landlord a certain amount of advance notice that they’re not planning to renew the lease, otherwise they’ll be locked in (often for another year).1

“Tenancies at will” do not have an end date

Not every lease has a built-in expiration date. Massachusetts law, for example, considers verbal leases valid—even if they’re never written down.2 These leases might not contain any specified end date and could be as informal as a landlord saying a tenant can crash for a while and pay a certain amount every month or two.

Other leases can be thought of as “rollover,” or periodic, leases. In these, a tenant occupies a rental unit on a weekly, monthly, or yearly basis (or any other period of time you can dream up—every 12 days would be legal, for example, if a bit complicated), with no set end date. In these cases, the lease automatically renews after a set period of time—neither the landlord nor the tenant needs to take any action for the lease to renew. Lease arrangements like this give both landlords and tenants flexibility, and feature less of a legal commitment. They can be oral or written in nature.

Massachusetts law refers to open-ended tenancies as “tenancies at will.”

Tenancies at will can be created accidentally

While some tenancies at will can be created by landlords and tenants specifically, others can be created without any explicit agreement. This happens when a tenant stays in a rental unit after their fixed lease is up—the tenant “holds over” in the rental unit. If the landlord continues to accept rent payments, it creates a tenancy at will.3 The lease will automatically continue to renew every rent period. For example, if a tenant pays rent monthly, the lease will continue to automatically renew on a monthly basis, and ending the lease requires following the rules detailed below.

Landlords and tenants must give 30 days’ notice to end a tenancy at will

Massachusetts law requires both landlords and tenants to explicitly inform the other when they want to end a tenancy at will. Only once this notice is provided will the lease end. A landlord who fails to provide notice may not evict a tenant. A tenant who fails to provide notice needs to keep paying the rent, even if they move out.

How much notice is required depends on how often the tenant pays rent:

  • For leases with payment periods of three months or fewer, at least 30 days’ notice must be given.4 That includes week-to-week and month-to-month tenancies, since both have payment periods that are less than three months.
  • For leases with payment periods longer than three months—for instance, if a tenant paid rent every six months—at least three months’ notice must be given.4

All of these notices must be in writing. They can be mailed to the party receiving notice, or given to them directly, but they cannot be verbal or sent by text or email.4

[1] Comets Community Youth Center, Inc. v. Town of Natick, Superior, Court of Massachusetts.January 23, 1998

[2] Belizaire v. Furr, Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk, 2015

[3] Kobayashi v. Orion Ventures, Inc., Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk, April 18, 1997

[4] MGL c.186 § 12

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