Rent Increases

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Lauren D. Song, Greater Boston Legal Services

One of the most common problems tenants face is unfair and unaffordable rent increases. In some cases, the reason for the increase may be illegal. In others, the rent notice may be defective. Often, a large rent increase impacts a whole building of tenants who face being displaced because of unaffordable rents.

In all cases, whether a rent increase is legal or illegal, proper or defective, or affordable or unaffordable, a landlord cannot increase your rent without your agreement to pay the increase.31 Without your agreement, a rent increase notice is simply a one-sided demand from your landlord. In short, there can be no legally enforceable rent increase unless both you and your landlord agree to the increase.

If you do not agree to a rent increase, your legal obligation is still to pay the current rent (the rent that you did agree to pay). If you continue to pay the current rent, your landlord cannot evict you for non-payment of rent because you are paying the rent you agreed to pay, and just not paying the rent increase you didn’t agree to pay. Refusing to pay a higher rent is not considered non-payment of rent.

If you do not have a lease and are a tenant-at-will, a landlord can end or terminate your tenancy at the existing rent with a 30-day notice to quit. Sometimes landlords send a notice to quit and a notice of rent increase at the same time, or combine the 2 notices in a single document. If you still do not agree to the higher rent after getting both notices, the landlord can then proceed with what is called a “no fault” eviction case.

If you have a lease, a landlord cannot demand a rent increase before your lease has expired, except if your lease has what is called a “tax escalator clause.”32 For more, see Tax Escalator Clause.

Important: If you do pay a rent increase, your payment can be treated as “accepting” your landlord’s “offer” of a new tenancy at a higher rent—even if you may not have intended to agree to a permanent rent increase. If at some later point you are unable to continue to pay the higher rent, your landlord can now evict you with a 14-day notice to quit for non-payment of the higher rent. Before you pay any rent increase, think through your options by reading Options If You Receive a Rent Increase.


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