Before Renting Out Your Property
Before renting an apartment, you should inspect it completely after the current tenant vacates or near the end of the current tenant’s occupancy. Check for damage to assure that it is in good repair. You are obligated under certain circumstances to have the local Board of Health inspect and verify that the apartment meets State Sanitary Code and safety standards prior to re-renting.
It makes good business sense to do this on all occasions whether required to or not, because anticipating and resolving problems before they become major issues is essential to the smooth, cost-effective, and profitable operation of residential property.
If the apartment is inspected by the Board of Health, make sure the inspector sign-off’s once any violations have been corrected. This sign-off also acts as a violation-free baseline if the tenant should claim there are problems with the apartment after taking occupancy.
Screening Prospective Tenants
You should always run a credit check and a check of the tenant’s prior rental history. You should always confirm current employment, salary level, prospects for remaining with the employer, and landlord references from not just the current landlord, but the tenant’s landlord just prior to the prospective tenant’s current landlord. Also, you may want to meet your tenants prior to giving final approval, especially in an owner-occupied multi-unit rental.
While the rule of thumb that tenants should pay no more than ¼ of their income for rent has been stretched beyond that recommendation by increases in market rents, if the tenants offer a co-signature of a parent or friend on their lease to guarantee their rental obligation to you, consider carefully that a guarantee by an out of state signer is very difficult to enforce.
Collecting the Rent
Increasing the Rent
You are allowed increase the rent in any amount you believe is appropriate for the market for a non-subsidized unit or for a unit that does not fall under the restrictions of rent control pertaining to mobile homes, under the following circumstances:
Under a tenancy at will, you must end the tenancy and notify the tenant of the rent increase at least a full rental period in advance, but not less than 30 days in advance of the effective date of the increase.
You may only increase the rent of a tenant under a lease after the lease terms expire unless the lease states otherwise. Typically, the lease includes a deadline for renewal which should be observed when seeking a rent increase for a tenant under a lease.
Keep in mind: Rent increases can be complicated. The advice of an attorney should be sought before attempting it. Increasing rent incorrectly could lead to costly, time-consuming, and needless problems or litigation with your tenant (M.G.L. c. 186, §§ 11
The Right to Prompt Payment
You have the right to receive the rent on the first of each month unless otherwise agreed upon by you and your tenant. There is no grace period in Massachusetts, therefore if the tenant does not pay on the first of the month, you may begin an eviction by sending a notice to quit.
Late Payment Penalty
You cannot charge late fees or penalties for rent paid past the due date unless it is paid 30 days or more past the due date. It is also illegal to encourage early payment by offering a reverse penalty. For instance, rent will be reduced by 10 % if the rent is paid within the first five days of the month. However, because there is no “grace period,” you may begin eviction if the rent is only one day late.
The Right to Enter the Apartment
A landlord may generally enter the apartment at reasonable times and upon reasonable notice for these reasons:
To show the apartment to prospective tenants, purchasers, lenders, or their agents
To inspect the premises
To make repairs
To inspect within 30 days of the end of the tenancy to determine damages to be deducted from the security deposit
If the premises appear to be abandoned
Pursuant to the Court order
You may require tenants to pay their own electricity and gas bills. It’s best to include this in your written tenancy agreement as you could later be charged with paying past utility bills if the tenant refuses to pay despite having verbally agreed to pay them
You may be able to charge for water but you must meet certain legal requirements.
You cannot cause the removal or shutoff of the utilities except for a temporary period during repair or emergencies
In the event your account will be shut off for non-payment, the utility company must notify the tenant 30 days before the scheduled termination. The tenant can be asked to pay part of the overdue bill to the utility, and deduct that payment from their rent (M.G.L. c. 164, § 124A-I
Duty to Provide Habitable Premises
You must provide habitable apartments and common areas for the entire tenancy in accordance with the minimum standards of the State Sanitary Code which seeks to protect the health, safety, and well-being of your tenants and the general public.
Heat: You must provide a heating system for each apartment (or one system that services all apartments) that is in good working order. You are required to pay for the fuel to provide heat and hot water and electricity unless the written rental agreement states that the tenant must pay for these. The heating season runs from September 16 through June 14th, during which every room must be heated to between 68˚F and not more than 78˚F between 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., and at least 64˚F at all other hours.
Kitchens: Kitchens must have a sink sufficient for washing dishes and kitchen utensils, a stove and oven in good working order unless the written rental agreement states the tenant must provide this, and electrical hook-ups for installation of a refrigerator. You are not required to provide a refrigerator, but if you do, it must be maintained by the landlord in good working order.
Water: If you meet certain legal requirements, you may charge a new tenant for water consumption by installing a water meter for the unit. You are still responsible for the payment of the water and sewer bills and must bill your tenants separately. Before installing separate water meters, landlords must contact the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for the required forms. Landlords must still provide the facilities for heating water to a temperature between 110˚F and 130˚F and must pay for this fuel unless the written tenancy agreement states that the tenant must pay for it.
Infestation: Common areas and apartments must be kept clean and free from rodents, insects, and other infestations if there are two or more apartments in the building.
Structural Elements: You must maintain the foundation, floors, walls, doors, windows, ceilings, roof, stairwells, porches, chimneys, and all structural elements so as to exclude wind, rain, and snow; so as to be rodent-proof, weather tight, watertight, and free of chronic dampness, in good repair and fit for human habitation at all times.
Maintenance of Exits: Each exit used or intended for use by the building’s occupants must be maintained and kept free of all snow, trash, and other obstructions.