Understanding Massachusetts law regarding a lease agreement can get overwhelming at first. There are many things you must keep in mind before signing, including rent payments, evictions, terminations, and more.
Here, we'll cover everything you should know about breaking a rental lease early in Massachusetts. Understanding these laws will allow you to prepare whenever a tenant tries to end the lease agreement before it expires.
Breaking a lease in Massachusetts requires tenants to provide their landlord with written notice. The amount of notice will depend on the length of the lease term:
- Monthly Leases - Either 30 days or a number of days equal to the interval between each rent payment.
- Yearly Leases - Three months of notice, as long as the payment intervals are three months or longer.
Keep in mind that there's no statute for weekly notice requirements, so it's suggested that tenants still serve notice promptly if they want to avoid any problems with their landlords.
There are no notice requirements for a fixed-term lease.
Breaking a Lease Early
Tenants can break a rental agreement in Massachusetts, as long as they meet one of the requirements we'll explain below.
If the tenant doesn't meet any of those requirements, they may have to pay a penalty fee for all the "damages" caused to the landlord.
Active Military Duty
Federal law protects active service members trying to break a lease in Massachusetts. Specifically, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) gives these tenants the opportunity to avoid penalty fees if they're able to prove they're currently on active military duty and are relocated.
Overall, the tenant has to deliver a written notice letter to their landlord, as well as a copy of the deployment or relocation orders. If the tenant fails to prove they will remain on duty for at least 90 days or that they signed the document before they entered duty, they may not be able to legally break the lease without any penalties.
It's also vital to keep in mind that tenants can also terminate the lease 30 days after the next rent period starts.
Early Termination Clause
Including an "Early Termination Clause" will make breaking a lease in Massachusetts much more comfortable for all the parties involved.
Typically, landlords include this clause in order to protect themselves if their tenants want to break the agreement before the lease term ends. These landlords often allow these tenants to break a lease in exchange for a penalty.
However, there may be some cases in which the tenant may be able to terminate the agreement without paying penalties, but that will depend on the case and on the landlord's willingness to negotiate.
If a tenant ever tries to break the lease, make sure you both review the terms of the lease before doing anything else.
Landlord harassment can sometimes be considered enough to break a lease in Massachusetts. In these cases, the tenant may be able to seek legal advice and relieve themselves from any further lease obligations.
The two most common scenarios that are considered harassment or privacy violation include:
- Lock Changing - A landlord can't change the property's locks without the tenant's consent. If the landlord violates this rule, the tenant could be considered "constructively evicted," meaning they may get relieved of their lease duties.
- Landlord Entry - Landlords in Massachusetts aren't required to provide a specific amount of notice before entering the property. However, they're suggested to provide at least 24 hours of notice as a sign of good faith.
Domestic Violence, Rape, or Abuse
The state protects tenants who are victims of domestic violence, stalking, rape, or other similar cases. If the tenant is able to prove their claim to their landlord, they may be able to break the lease early.
Overall, tenants must provide a notice letter with an attached copy of a valid protection order, court record, or written verification from a qualified person that confirms the claim.
Keep in mind that tenants have three months from the incident date to request an early termination. If they don't quit within that timeframe, their notice letter will be invalid.
Landlords aren't allowed to refuse a rental request because of a person's domestic violence status.
Massachusetts (as well as most states) has particular health and safety codes that landlords must follow before, during, and after renting their property. In other words, they must keep their property up to appropriate health standards.
If the tenant finds any potential hazards that may affect them, they have the legal right to request repairs. Landlords who fail to provide these repairs promptly risk voiding the lease agreement.
Generally speaking, landlords should provide their tenants with the following:
- Running Water and Hot Water
- Working Kitchen
- Appropriate Extermination Measures
- Functioning Utilities and Heating Appliances
The following reasons may be valid to terminate a lease, although they may have to get evaluated and approved by a local court:
- Repeated violations of the lease agreement.
- Using unenforceable contracts.
- Not being able to provide reasonable accommodations for tenants with qualified disabilities.
- Failing to provide mandatory disclosures surrounding known defects of the property.
Even though there are many arguments tenants can use to break their lease, some of them may not be enough to provide them the protection they need to break the lease without paying penalties.
Those arguments/reasons include:
- Buying a new house.
- Relocating for a new school or job.
- Moving because of medical reasons.
- Upsizing or downsizing,
- Moving to be closer to a family member or close friend.
- Moving because of a marriage or divorce/separation.
It's important to note that, technically, tenants can break a lease for any reason. However, if they try to do it without a valid one, they may have to pay penalties to mitigate the damages the landlord may get.
Delivering a Landlord Written Notice
There are three methods the tenant can consider for sending notice before moving out of the rental property. These include:
- Serving the letter to the landlord in person.
- Leaving the letter at the landlord's known address.
- Mailing the letter via registered/certified mail.
Not following any of these three methods will likely render the notice letter invalid, which can cause issues between both parties.
Landlords in Massachusetts can enforce penalties to get compensated if their tenants try to break the lease. These penalties can get used to cover owed rent or any other expenses associated with re-renting.
As long as you include all the necessary clauses and terms in your lease, you will be able to enforce penalties without any legal problems. Your tenant may try to negotiate with you to pay fewer penalties, but the response will depend on you.
Is There a Way to Prevent Tenants from Breaking a Lease Early?
Yes! Make sure to include an "Early Termination Clause" that carefully outlines the conditions under which a tenant can break a lease. There, you must also include any potential penalties and other necessary languages needed to solve these disputes in the healthiest way possible.
Besides negotiating with their landlord to come to a mutual termination agreement, tenants can also help them find a new tenant to avoid paying all the penalties they got asked for.
Finding Replacement Tenants
Rules surrounding re-renting in Massachusetts are slightly confusing for some people. While official documents say that landlords should try to find a replacement tenant, the state often doesn't require landlords to mitigate damages with this method.
In that sense, the best thing tenants can do is to talk to their landlord to come up with a mutual agreement. However, it may be in the tenant's best interest to find a new tenant for their landlord as soon as possible, as that could help them pay fewer penalty fees in the future.
Subletting the Rental Property
Tenants in Massachusetts may be able to sublet the property if they get permission from their landlord. There are two options:
The landlord already included a subletting clause in the agreement, which states whether or not the tenant can sublet the property.
The landlord didn't include a subletting clause in the agreement, and the tenant must ask for permission to do it.
In any case, the landlord has the right to refuse a subletting request, as long as the refusal is based on legitimate reasons.
Tenants must send a letter through certified mail to get their landlord's approval. Overall, subletting can be a great way to avoid paying too much money in penalties, although it's still recommended to review the lease terms and talk to the landlord before making any decision.
That's all you need to know about breaking a lease in Massachusetts. We hope all this information helps you achieve a healthier leasing relationship with your tenant.
Remember that the key to ensuring a healthier agreement and avoiding misunderstandings is to be as clear as possible with your lease terms, particularly the ones surrounding early lease terminations.
As long as you understand the state's landlord-tenant law, you'll have all the tools you need to avoid legal problems.
Can Landlords Evict Tenants for Not Paying Rent?
Yes. They can serve a notice to "pay rent or quit" to their tenant. If they refuse to pay rent within the specified period, the landlord will have the legal right to serve a final notice to quit.
Moreover, if the tenant refuses to leave, the landlord can file a lawsuit.
What Are the Common Penalties for Breaking a Lease in Massachusetts?
The penalties will vary depending on the case, but the most common ones include:
- Getting asked to pay the remaining rent.
- Losing part of the security deposit.
- Getting asked to pay any fees meant to cover the re-rental process.
Do Tenants Need to Provide Written Notice for Fixed-Term Leases?
No, tenants aren't required to provide notice for a fixed-term lease in Massachusetts.
Can Landlords Keep the Security Deposit as a Penalty?
Yes, landlords may use the security deposit to cover all the remaining rent. However, if the amount of the deposit isn't enough, they may sue their tenant to get the rest.
- Massachusetts Eviction Laws: The Process & Timeline In 2023
- Massachusetts Landlord Tenant Laws & Rights for 2023
- Massachusetts Security Deposit Laws | Deductions & Rights
- Massachusetts Squatter's Rights & Adverse Possession Laws
- Massachusetts Rent Control Laws (2023) | The Complete Guide
- Your Responsibilities When You Leave - MassLegalHelp
- Chapter 186 (malegislature.gov)
- Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act (SCRA) | United States Courts
- General Law - Part II, Title I, Chapter 186, Section 24