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Tenant Screening Laws in Massachusetts

Massachusetts landlords cannot charge an application fee. They must also ask permission before requesting someone's criminal record.

Massachusetts has some of the strictest laws in the country concerning application fees: It's illegal for landlords to charge them at all. State statutes also create added transparency when it comes to criminal records—landlords must ask permission to access them and must tell an applicant if they were rejected because of their criminal history. And don't forget: although Massachusetts has its own state laws regulating the rental application process, federal laws also apply.

Landlords cannot charge application fees

According to state law, managers and property owners in Massachusetts are only allowed to charge incoming tenants for four things:1

  • First month
  • Last month
  • Security deposit
  • Cost of changing locks

Any other fee is illegal—such as application fees, cleaning fees, or pet fees. A 2014 federal district court decision reinforced this law. The lawsuit pitted tenants against a national apartment chain that was charging multiple up-front fees, including a $50 per person application fee. The judge ruled in favor of the tenants, invalidating the fees.2

Brokers may charge application fees, however. Brokers are governed by a different set of laws than landlords, which grant them the legal right to charge prospective tenants an application fee.3

Applicants must give permission to check criminal records

Massachusetts has its own in-state record of all criminal court appearances by an individual, known as Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI). When applying for a rental, a person’s CORI may be requested by a:

  • Public housing authority or government agency that oversees any federal or state-funded public or subsidized housing
  • Private landlord
  • Management company that owns housing or works for an owner
  • Real estate agent that works for a landlord or management company

However, before a CORI can be requested, applicants must first give their permission by signing a CORI Acknowledgement Form.4

Landlords must acknowledge a CORI-based rejection

A landlord must inform an applicant if they were rejected because of information in their CORI, give them a copy, and allow them to dispute any incorrect charges.

Victims of domestic violence can't be rejected for certain reasons

In Massachusetts, a landlord cannot reject a prospective tenant’s application if they had to end a lease early or change their locks at a previous rental because of domestic violence.5

Applicants are protected from discrimination by Massachusetts fair housing laws

All tenants in the U.S. are covered by the federal Fair Housing Act, which makes it illegal for landlords or brokers to treat people different based on race, national origin, religion, gender, disability, or family status. But Massachusetts has its own set of fair housing laws, which also stop landlords from rejecting applicants because of their sexual orientation, age, military status, and more.

[1] MGL c.186, §15B

[2] Perry et al v. Equity Residential Management LLC (2013)

[3] 254 CMR 700

[4] MGL c.6 §172 (c)

[5] MGL c.186, §25

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