1. What If the Rent Is Late
As a tenant, you are obligated to pay only the rent you and your landlord have agreed upon. You must pay the rent in advance, on or before the date you and the landlord agreed rent is due. Often the agreed rent date is the first of the month.
A landlord may also try to evict you for repeated late payments or for non-payment of rent. Most landlords do not send
a. Late Fees
Your landlord cannot charge you interest or fees on late rent payments unless your
If you have a written
Even if your written agreement has a late payment penalty clause, a landlord cannot collect any late payment fee until you are 30 days late with the rent.11 If the late payment penalty clause says that the landlord can collect a late fee before 30 days pass, the clause is illegal, and you should not pay a late fee. 12
- For late fees in public housing, see the booklet Rent in Public Housing, available online at: www.MassLegalHelp.org/housing/tenants-rights-in-public-housing
b. “Discounts” for Paying on Time
If you have a
- For more information about late penalty and discount clauses, see Chapter 1: Before Moving In - Common Lease Clauses.
If your landlord incorrectly calculated your rent, did not credit you for rent you paid, or charged you fees or damages that are not your responsibility to pay, there are steps to take to try to protect yourself.
a. Payment and Acceptance
One way to resolve a dispute about rent is to pay your landlord what you think is owed with a check that includes the following statement on the back of the check:
"Endorsing or cashing this check constitutes full payment of rent due up to and including for the month of __, year __."
You may also include with your check a letter that explains why you do not owe the amount the landlord claims you owe.
In most cases, if your landlord cashes the check with this statement on the back without any objection, she has accepted your offer of full payment and agreed to give up (
If your landlord takes your rent check but also writes on it that she is not accepting it as full payment for all rent owed, you still may be able to argue that she had accepted the check as payment in full.15
b. Protect Yourself
If your landlord continues to dispute the amount of rent you owe after accepting and cashing your check with this statement written on the back, you should put the disputed amount in a bank account that is separate from your other money. By setting aside the money in dispute, you will be more credible to the judge if your landlord takes you to court.
Always protect yourself by keeping in a safe place a copy of:
- The front and back of your check with your statement that you are paying the full amount of rent.
- The cancelled check after the landlord cashes it, and
- Any letter you send the landlord.
3. Stopping an Eviction for Non-Payment or Late Payment
a. Always Try to Cure
You have a right to stop your landlord from bringing an eviction by paying all the rent you owe by certain deadlines. This is called “
b. You Have No Lease
If you do not have a
If you do not have a
''If you have not received a notice to quit for nonpayment of rent within the last twelve months, you have a right to prevent termination of your tenancy by paying your landlord or your landlord's attorney or the person to whom you customarily pay your rent the full amount of rent due within ten days after your receipt of this notice.''19
If your 14-day
c. You Have a Lease
If you have a
If you have a
If you wait until after your landlord starts an eviction case to
It is illegal for a
d. Landlord Refuses Payment
If your landlord refuses to let you cure by accepting your payment, be sure to document the refusal. If you hand deliver your payment, have someone come with you who can witness whether the landlord refuses to accept it.
If your landlord refuses to accept payment, send her a letter that you offered to pay and the date and amount you tried to pay. Have your statement signed by a witness who knows of your attempt to cure.
Even if you miss the deadline to cure the non-payment, try to convince your landlord to accept your rent and stop any eviction action. Often, landlords agree not to go ahead with an eviction case because their real interest is in receiving the rent.
Important: If your landlord refuses to accept your rent, it is very important that you set aside all the rent that becomes due each month in a bank account that is separate from your other money. Having the rent set aside in a separate account will increase your credibility in court. It will also help you because if you pay what is owed the landlord within 10 days of any judgment against, you can keep your tenancy.
e. Eviction for Repeated Late Payment
If you pay rent late often, your landlord may try to evict you on the basis of repeated or chronic late payment, instead of non-payment of rent. Late payment of rent is not the same as non-payment of rent.24 For late payment of rent, a landlord cannot use a 14-day
f. Delay in Government Assistance Payment and Other Good Reasons
If the late payment or non-payment of rent is caused by a delay in your receipt of government assistance or rental payments and you are facing an eviction, you have the right to a 7-day continuance of an eviction action.26 Your landlord cannot proceed with the eviction case if you are able to pay all rent due with interest and costs of the court case within the continued court date.27
Also, if you or someone in your household has a disability, you may be entitled to a
- For more on
reasonable accommodations, see Chapter 7: Discrimination - Discrimination Based on Disability.
If there are other good reasons for a late- or non-payment, you should explain the reasons to the landlord and the judge. Temporary financial hardships or other sympathetic circumstances may be persuasive to reach an agreement for a reasonable time to pay and to avoid eviction.
- For more about your rights in an eviction case, see Chapter 12: Evictions.
If you rent a condominium, you pay rent to the owner of the condo, who is your landlord. The owner is required to pay a monthly condo fee to the building's condo association. If the owner stops paying the monthly condo fee, or if she refuses to pay other condo charges called “assessments,” the condo association is authorized by law to ask you to pay your rent to the condo association instead of to your landlord, the condo owner.28 In no event, can the condo association collect from you more than your agreed upon rent.29
Before the condo association can collect rent from you, it must wait until your landlord's condo fee payments are at least 25 days late. It must then send a notice to the landlord explaining that it intends to collect the rent for her unit to pay the late condo fees. If the landlord does not respond to the condo association's notice within 10 days, or if she admits that she owes the association money, then the association is allowed to collect all or some of your rent each month until your rent has paid off the amount the landlord owes to the condo association. If the landlord responds to the condo association within 10 days, but denies that she owes the association any money, then the condo association cannot collect any rent from you.
If a condo association asks for your rent, you should ask the association to put the request in writing. You should also ask for copies of the notice the association sent to your landlord and any written response from your landlord to the association. Remember that in no event can the condo association ask you to pay more than your rent.
A landlord cannot
9 . G.L. c. 186, §15B(1)(c) ("No lease . . . shall impose any interest or penalty for failure to pay rent until thirty days after such rent shall have been due."); G.L. c. 93A, §2; 940 C.M.R. §3.17(3)(a)(3) and (6).
12 . G.L. c. 186, §15B(1)(c); G.L. c. 93A; 940 C.M.R. §3.17(6)(a). Also, you cannot be charged a constable's or other fee for service of a notice to quit for rent that is less than 30 days late.
13 . G.L. c. 186, §15B(1)(c) states that "[n]o lease . . . shall impose any interest or penalty for failure to pay rent until thirty days after such rent shall have been due."
14 . Whether a landlord accepts payment in full and waives (or reserves) her right to dispute the rent is a question of fact that depends on the circumstances of each case. Your landlord may attempt to reject your offer of payment in full: (a) by refusing to accept or cash your check or (b) by cashing the check but subject to a “reservation of rights” to continue to dispute the rent owed. Your landlord must notify you that she is reserving her rights to continue to dispute the rent owed before or at the time you make the rent payment.
15 . To be effective, a reservation of rights must be communicated to you either before or at the time your check is accepted. If a landlord writes a reservation of rights on the back of your rent check but you could not know about this until after the check is cashed and the cancelled check is returned to you by the bank, the reservation may not be valid. For example
17 . G.L. c. 186, §12. However, your deadline to cure is extended to the date the Answer to the Summons and Complaint is due if the notice to terminate your tenancy at will does not contain the statutory right to cure language. G.L. c. 186, §12.
22 . G.L. c. 186, §11.
25 . Massachusetts law requires a 14-day notice to terminate a tenancy for non-payment of rent whether the tenancy is under a
28 . G.L. c. 183A, §6(c). (“…The organization shall have a continuing right to collect any rent otherwise payable by the tenant to such unit owner.... or otherwise to seek and obtain an order requiring the tenant in such unit or tenants in other units owned by the unit owner in the condominium to pay to the organization rent otherwise due to the unit owner”).