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How Much Can a Landlord Charge

 

When you move in, the most your landlord can charge you is:

  • The first month's rent,
  • The last month's rent,
  • A security deposit up to the amount of the first month's rent, and
  • The cost of a new lock.43

Whenever you pay the landlord any money, get a signed and dated receipt that says how much money you gave the landlord and what it was for.44

If the landlord requires that you pay the last month's rent in advance or a security deposit, the law requires that the landlord give you a receipt. You have a right to a receipt. If your landlord does not give you a receipt, ask for one. Or, you can use the sample receipt (see Form 4). The receipt must have certain information in it. To find out exactly what information a landlord must include in this receipt, see Providing Written Receipts in Chapter 3: Security Deposits and Last Month's Rent.

Never give your landlord cash for rent or anything else without getting a written receipt. If a landlord won't give you a receipt for cash, don't give her the cash. Use a check or get a money order and write on it what the payment was for. Then put the cancelled check or stub for the money order in a safe place.

Illegal Fees

When landlords rent apartments to new tenants, they often try to get more money than just the rent. They may try to tack on extra fees such as "holding deposits," "rental fees," "pet fees," or "application fees." These extra charges are illegal.45 The problem is, if you refuse to pay these fees, a landlord may refuse to allow you to move in. Often, the best course is to pay the illegal fees or the illegally high rent and then take it out of your future rent payments after you have safely moved in.46 Again, make sure to get a written, signed, dated receipt for any money you pay.

The only extra charge the law allows is for a rental agent to charge a "finder's fee." A rental agent can charge a finder's fee only if she is a licensed real estate broker or salesperson.47 If the rental agent is also the landlord, the law may prohibit her from charging a finder's fee.48 To find out if a rental agent is a licensed real estate broker, go to the internet at: Board of Registration of Real Estate Brokers & Salespersons and click on "Check a License."

Pet Deposits and Pet Rental Fees

If you have a pet, a landlord may demand that you pay a "pet deposit" to protect the landlord in the event that your pet causes damage to the unit. While such a deposit is clearly illegal if the landlord is also collecting a security deposit equal to the first month's rent, a landlord may not let you move in unless you agree to pay the additional deposit.

A new trend is that some landlords are also trying to charge what they are calling "pet rental fees," which take the form of an increased monthly rent if you have a pet (for example, $20 extra each month if you have a cat]. There is a question as to whether pet rental fees are legal.49

If a landlord demands that you pay a pet rental fee, ask the landlord what this money is for. If the landlord or a management company says that it is to protect the landlord against damage that a pet might cause, try to convince the landlord that this is what the security deposit is for and that you feel your rent should be the same as what another prospective tenant without a pet would be charged. You also could try to get a letter from your old landlord stating that your pet did not cause damage to your previous apartment.

Utility Payments

A lease may require you to pay for certain utilities, such as heat, water, electricity, and gas. It is important to be clear about what your rights and responsibilities are. Below is a chart that tells you when you are responsible for paying certain utilities and when your landlord is responsible.

Utility

Who Pays

Water

Landlord is required to pay unless there is a meter that separately calculates the tenant's water use, the unit has low flow fixtures, and there is a written agreement that says the tenant must pay.50

Fuel for

Hot Water

Landlord must pay unless written agreement says the tenant must pay.51

Fuel for Heat

Landlord must pay unless a written agreement says the tenant must pay.52

Electricity

Landlord must pay unless there is a meter that separately calculates the tenant's electricity use and a written agreement says the tenant must pay.53

Gas

Landlord must pay unless there is a meter that separately calculates the tenant's gas use and a written agreement says the tenant must pay.54

For more information about what your rights to utility services are, see Chapter 6: Utilities.

Endnotes

43 . G.L. c. 186, §15B(1)(b).

44 . For certain items, such as security deposits and last month's rent, the landlord is required to give such a receipt. G.L. c. 186, §15B(2)(a) and (3)(a).

45 . Under G.L. 186, §15B(1)(b), the law is clear that a landlord can charge only first month's rent, last month's rent, a security deposit, and the cost of a new lock.

46 . Tenants should be permitted to deduct overcharges from their rent. See Bernashe v. Comtois, Hampden Housing Court, 88-SP5595-S (Abrashkin, J, April 28, 1989), where the court held that "side payments" made by tenant above his Section 8 rent share were an illegal overcharge, and the court awarded the overcharge and trebled under G.L. c. 93A; but see also Delgado v. Stefanik, Hampden Housing Court, 89-LE3532-H, p. 13-14 (Abrashkin, J., November 1, 1989), where the court found that the landlord had illegally charged more than a month's rent for a security deposit and had illegally charged $100.00 to hold the unit, but only awarded $25.00 under G.L. c. 93A "in the absence of proof of greater actual damages." G.L. c. 239, §8A allows tenants to raise the landlord's "violation of any other law" as a defense to an eviction. However, many judges don't understand this statute and may think that only Sanitary Code violations are covered by it. But, even these judges may be unwilling to evict a tenant who merely withheld an illegal overcharge.

47 . G.L. c. 112, §87DDD½.

48 . See G.L. c. 186, §15B(1)(b).

49 . While there is no case law directly addressing this issue, if there is no reason for the pet rental fee other than to protect the landlord against damage caused by the pet, a court may conclude that such a fee is illegal. See Endnote 22 regarding discount clauses. See also Madan v. Berrath, Boston Housing Court, 97-03156, p. 3 (Winik, J, August 20, 1997) (holding that a pet deposit is a security deposit within the meaning of G.L. 186, §15B).

50 . See G.L. c. 186 §22 which lays out the requirements landlords must meet in order to be able to bill tenants for water usage. See also www.MassLegalHelp.org/housing/water-law for useful information about this law.

51 . 105 C.M.R. §§410.190, 410.201, 410.354. If no such written agreement exists, the landlord is legally responsible for the cost of heating the tenant's apartment even if the tenant has adopted the practice of paying for the heat herself. Young v. Patukonis, 24 Mass. App. Ct. 907, 908-09 (1987) (rescript). See also Lezberg v. Rogers, 27 Mass. App. Ct. 1158, 159 (1989).

52 . See previous endnote.

53 . 105 C.M.R. §410.354(A)-(C).

54 . See previous endnote.


Produced by Pattie Whiting
Created July 2008


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