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Lease Termination

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed November 28, 2005

When can a housing authority terminate my lease?

To end your lease, the housing authority must have "good cause." Read your lease carefully; it will specify when your tenancy can be terminated.

State public housing

Under state law, your public housing tenancy can be terminated for the following reasons:

  • You or a household member violated any lease terms.1
  • A guest violated any lease terms and you or someone in your household knew there was a possibility the guest would do so.2

Note:

If the housing authority does this, it must offer grievance opportunity except where it has proof that tenant knew or should have known.

  • You or a household member or a guest engaged in criminal conduct (including causing or threatening to cause serious physical harm, destroying property, using weapons, drug activity, prostitution, and illegal gaming).3
  • You knew there was a court order barring a person from housing authority property and you didn't take all necessary steps to keep the person away.4

Federal public housing

Federal law allows a housing authority to terminate a public housing tenancy for the following reasons:

  • You commited a serious or repeated violation of the lease.5
  • You or a household member engaged in alcohol abuse.6
  • You or any household member were convicted of methamphetamine manufacture or production on the premises.7
  • You, a household member, or a guest engaged in drug-related criminal activity on or off the premises.8
  • You or a household member used illegal drugs or had a pattern of illegal drug use that interfered with the safety of or peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents.9
  • You or a household member engaged in any criminal activity that threatened the safety or peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents.10

Federal law allows a housing authority to bring an eviction case for criminal activity regardless of whether anyone has been arrested or convicted.

How can I break my public housing lease?

If you need to break a public housing lease, you should read the sections of the lease on "terminating the tenancy." The lease will explain the procedures that you must follow.

State public housing

In state public housing, you must mail or deliver a notice in writing to the housing authority stating that you are ending your tenancy on a specific date. You must mail or deliver this notice at least 30 days before the date you want to move out.11 You do not need to state any reason for breaking the lease if you follow this procedure.

Federal public housing

In federal public housing, you should check your lease for the specific procedure you need to follow to break your lease.12 It can vary from housing authority to housing authority, but it is usually the same as the procedures for state public housing. Again, you do not need to state any reason for breaking the lease if you follow the procedures in your lease.

Breaking your lease sooner than allowed

If you have a disability or are the victim of domestic violence, you may be able to break your lease sooner than allowed under your lease. You will need to explain to the housing authority why you need to get out of your lease. Set up a meeting with the housing authority and bring documentation that shows you were the victim of domestic violence or that you have a disability that prevents you from remaining in the apartment. For example, bring documents such as a restraining order, police report, hospital record, or doctor’s letter.

You also may be able to legally end your lease if the housing authority refuses to correct very serious conditions in your apartment. Before you leave, have a local board of health inspect the apartment to document how bad the conditions are.13

In addition, if the housing authority’s actions or inactions have interfered with what is called you "quiet enjoyment," and you have to move immediately, you may be able to do so without legally breaking your lease. One example of a violation of your right to quiet enjoyment could be excessive noise from other tenants under the housing authority’s control.14

Footnotes

1Spence v. Gormley, 387 Mass. 258 (1982) and BHA v. Bell, 428 Mass. 108, 697 N.E.2d 130 (1998).

2760 C.M.R. § 6.06(6)(c) and (d).

3M.G.L. c. 121B § 32; M.G.L. c. 139 § 19.

4760 C.M.R. § 6.06(6)(j).

524 C.F.R. § 966.4(f)(12)(iii).

642 U.S.C. § 1437(d)(L)(5); 24 C.F.R. § 966.4(l).

724 C.F.R. § 966.4(l)(5)(i)(A).

824 C.F.R. § 966.4(l)(5)(i)(B).

924 C.F.R. § 966.4(l)(5)(ii)(A).

1024 C.F.R. § 966.4(1)(5)(iii).

11760 C.M.R. § 6.06(6)(a).

1224 C.F.R. § 966.4(l)(1).

13Boston Housing Authority v. Hemingway, 363 Mass. 184, 199-200, 293 N.E.2nd 831, 843 (1973).

14Blackett v. Olanoff, 371 Mass. 714, 358 N.E.2nd 817 (1977).

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