Tenants' rights in rooming houses

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Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

If you live in a rooming house, your rights and responsibilities are different than tenants in other types of housing. But like all other tenants, you have the right to a safe, decent place to live and certain protections against eviction.

This article gives an overview of laws that specifically apply to rooming houses. You may also need to learn about laws that protect tenants in general.

What is a rooming house?

A rooming house is a business that rents out individual rooms in the same building.  

The most important features of a rooming house are:

  1. You rent a single room, and
  2. There are 4 or more renters living there who are not related to the person operating the rooming house.

The person running the rooming house could be a landlord, a property manager, or a primary tenant who sublets rooms to 4 or more unrelated people. It is illegal to run a rooming house without a license. 

What rights do I have if I live in a rooming house?

If you live in a rooming house, you have some of the same legal rights as tenants in other types of housing. Some of your legal rights are:

  • You have the right to a decent place to live with heat, hot water, and electricity.
  • Your room and the common areas must be safe and sanitary.
  • The rooming house must meet certain safety requirements.  
  • You cannot be locked out of your room without a landlord going to court and getting permission from a judge.

But not all rooming house residents have the same rights. Some rights will be different depending on how long you have lived in the rooming house. For example, whether your landlord must notify you before taking you to court to evict you depends on how long you have lived there. See Can I be evicted?

What are my landlord’s responsibilities?

If you live in a rooming house, your landlord must:

  • Provide you with a room and common areas that are safe and sanitary.  
  • Provide 1 bathroom with a toilet, sink, and shower or bathtub for every 8 rooming house renters.
  • Clean the bathroom every 24 hours if you share a bathroom with other renters.
  • Provide automatic smoke or heat detectors.
  • Provide sprinklers, if there are 6 renters or more.
  • Provide you with a room that is at least 100 square feet if you live by yourself or 70 square feet per person if you share the room with another person.
  • Fix unhealthy conditions like mice, rats, bedbugs, or cockroaches.
  • Make needed repairs without charging you, unless you caused the damage.
  • Give you privacy.
  • Get your permission to enter your room to make repairs, unless it is an emergency.
  • Get a court order if they want to evict you.
What kind of cooking facilities does a rooming house have to provide?

Your landlord does not have to provide a space where you can cook. But if they do, certain rules apply:

  • If your landlord provides a shared kitchen, the kitchen must have a sink, stove, oven, and storage space. The landlord must also provide a refrigerator unless the lease says that the tenant is responsible for providing the refrigerator.
  • Your landlord may provide a microwave in your room or in a shared space.
  • Where there are between 6-19 renters, the landlord may provide a kitchenette in your room. But only if your room is 150 square feet or larger. Individual kitchenettes must have: a hot plate, refrigerator, and sink with hot and cold running water.
  • If your room connects to another renter’s room, and the landlord provides a kitchenette, the kitchenette must have a stove instead of a hot plate and must also have a storage area for food. 
What is my landlord NOT allowed to do?

If you live in a rooming house, your landlord cannot:

  • Enter your room.  
    Your landlord cannot enter your room unless you give them permission, there’s an emergency, or they have a court order.
  • Lock you out of your room.  
    The only way a landlord can lock you out of your room is by getting a court order. See Lockouts.
  • Evict you without a court order.  
    See Can I be evicted? 
  • Keep your belongings.  
    Even if you get evicted, your landlord has to follow the eviction storage law
  • Refuse to make repairs.  
    If you ask the landlord to fix a problem and they refuse, put your request in writing. You can also report the problem to the local Board of Health. They should come inspect the problem and give the landlord a report that orders them to make the repair. If your landlord refuses to fix the problem, you can ask the Court to enforce the inspector's order. 
  • Evict you for asking to make repairs. 
    If they try to do that, it is retaliation and illegal. 
Can my landlord raise my rent?

Yes. Your landlord can raise your rent but only if you agree to it. To learn more about rent increases, including when an increase is illegal, see Rent Basics.

Can I be evicted?

Yes. In certain circumstances your landlord can evict you. Depending on how long you have lived in the rooming house, your landlord has to give you notice that they are ending your tenancy before they file an eviction case in court. 

If you have lived in the rooming house:

  • 30 days or less: Your landlord can file for eviction without any notice.
  • More than 30 days: Your landlord can file a 7-day eviction notice.
  • More than 3 months: The type of notice depends on the reason for eviction:
    • 7-day Notice for damaging property or causing a nuisance.  
    • 14-day Notice if you owe rent.
    • 30-day Notice for any other reason or no reason.

If a judge makes an order to evict you: 

You can ask the court for a reasonable accommodation to stay if you have a disability that relates to the eviction.  

You can ask the court for more time so you can find another place to live.  

You can appeal the court’s decision.

Department of Mental Health Housing

If you are in a Department of Mental Health (DMH) program, you have extra legal protections against eviction. You have the right to a hearing. It may be in court or at the DMH. The DMH must make sure you have another place to live before you are evicted.

This article is an overview. For more detailed information, see Legal Tactics, Chapter 15: Rooming Houses.


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