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 buying and installing a new lock.32
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.33
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 Rent Receipt (Form 2). The receipt must have certain information in it. To find out exactly what information a landlord must include in this receipt, see 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.
When landlords rent apartments to new tenants, sometimes they 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.34 The problem is, if you refuse to pay these fees, a landlord may refuse to allow you to move in.
The only extra charge the law allows is for a rental agent or a real estate broker 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. The broker must provide a written notice to prospective tenants with information about the fee and whether or not it is paid if a tenancy is not created.35 If the rental agent is also the landlord, the law may prohibit her from charging a finder's fee.36 To find out if a rental agent is a licensed real estate broker, see the Massachusetts Department of Safety license search tool.
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.37
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.
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.
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.38
Landlord must pay unless written agreement says the tenant must pay.39
Fuel for Heat
Landlord must pay unless a written agreement says the tenant must pay.40
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.41
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.42
For more information about what your rights to utility services are, see Chapter 6: Utilities.
34 . 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. Perry v. Equity Residential Management, LLC, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts, Civil Action No. 12-10779-RWZ (August 26, 2014) (G.L. 186, §15B(1)(b) does not authorize landlords to charge prospective tenants an application fee, amenity fee, a community fee or an upfront pet fee.) Broad Street Associates v. Levine, Northeast Housing Court, 12-SP-2041 (Kerman, J., July 30, 2012) (landlord’s acts of charging an application fee and a recurring “pet fee” of $50 per month were both violations of G.L. 186, §15B(1)(b)); Vazquez v. Fletcher, Worcester Housing Court, 09-CV-1032 (Fields, J., July 2009) (application fee is illegal).
37 . While there is very little 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, at least to the extent that the landlord has collected a security deposit equal to the first months' rent. See also Broad Street Associates v. Levine, Northeast Housing Court, 12-SP-2041 (Kerman, J., July 30, 2012) (landlord’s act of charging a recurring “pet fee” of $50 per month was a violation of G.L. 186, §15B(1)(b); Belchertown Real Estate Co. v. Farina, Western Housing Court, 09-SP-1546 (Fields, J. June 30, 2009) Jenkins v. Warringer, Northeast Housing Court, 07-SP-2244 (Kerman, J, October 11, 2007) (pet fee constituted an additional security deposit which exceeded the first month rent limitation in G.L. 186, §15B); 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).
38 . 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.
39 . 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).
40 . See previous endnote.
42 . See previous endnote.