Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Emergency Notice

You are here

Protections For Tenants State Laws

Produced by Mac McCreight
Reviewed May 2017

In 1983, the legislature passed a statewide condominium and cooperative conversion eviction law, providing certain basic protections for tenants in Massachusetts.7 The state condo law, which applies to buildings with 4 or more units, provides that in most situations a landlord who wants to convert her rental units to condominiums or a cooperative must provide every tenant with the following protections:8

  • Proper notice of conversion,
  • The right of "first refusal" to buy the apartment,
  • Rent protections, and
  • The right to moving expenses.

The state condo law covers all types of housing except:

  • Public housing,
  • Buildings with 3 or less units
  • Rooming houses occupied by residents who stay less than 14 days, and
  • Any building that has not been used for residential purposes for at least one year prior to an owner’s filing a master deed for a condo conversion.

In addition to the statewide condo law, the following communities have adopted local condo ordinances, providing tenants with greater or different protections:

 

If you live in any of the above communities, your local condo law applies to you and the state condo law does not (although certain statewide protections cannot be altered). Included in this chapter is a brief explanation about each of these local ordinances. To get a copy of your local condo law, contact your local town or city hall.

Unfortunately, neither the state law nor local laws provide any protections for conversions of properties with 3 or fewer units. If you are a tenant in a building with 3 or fewer units that is converting to a condos you are still protected by regular landlord-tenant law, your lease, or any subsidy or use restrictions on the property.

Note

The statewide condo law and local condo ordinances based on the statewide law were not affected by the abolition of rent control-related regulation in 1994.9

1. Proper Notice of Conversion

If your landlord wants to convert the apartments in your building into condominiums or a cooperative, the landlord must send you a written notice at least 1 year before she wants you to move out. If you are a low- or moderate-income tenant or there is an elderly or handicapped person in your household, your landlord must give you 2 years' notice before she wants you out.10 (As noted below, this 2-year period must be extended for elderly, handicapped, or low- and moderate-income tenants if the landlord fails to find comparable housing within the notice period.)

A condo conversion notice does not mean that you have to automatically move out of your apartment. The purpose of this notice is to legally terminate your tenancy. In order to move you out, your landlord must file an eviction case in court and a judge must give your landlord permission to evict you. Unless a judge gives your landlord permission to evict you, you do not have to move out of your apartment. In addition, the court may give you additional time to relocate.

A condo conversion notice must be hand-delivered to you or sent by certified mail. The notice must include a statement of your rights.

If You Have a Lease: If you have a lease and the term of your lease ends after the date on the condo conversion notice, your landlord cannot force you out before the date on your lease. If she does, you may have legal defenses or counterclaims that you can use to prevent or delay your eviction. For example, if the notice your landlord sent you was improper, a judge should dismiss your eviction case. For information about what your rights are during the eviction process and how to fight an eviction, see Chapter 12: Evictions.

If you decide to move out before the date on the notice of a conversion, you may be entitled to moving expenses. Make sure to give your landlord proper notice that you are moving out. See the section in this chapter called Moving Expenses and Chapter 11: Moving Out.

2. Right to Purchase

Under the state condo law, when a landlord gives you notice of conversion, she must also offer you the first right to purchase your unit.12 This is called a "right of first refusal."13 The landlord must do this by including with the condo conversion notice a document called a "purchase and sale agreement." This document will tell you how much the landlord wants to sell the unit for once it is converted into a condo. If you want and can afford to buy the apartment, you have 90 days to negotiate a purchase price with the landlord. During this 90-day period, the landlord cannot offer to sell the unit to anyone else.14

If you do not want to buy the unit or cannot afford to buy it, the landlord can sell the unit on the open market after the 90-day period has passed.15 Any person or entity buying your unit will then become your new landlord. This new landlord must follow all the provisions of the state condo law, and must honor your right to remain in your apartment until the expiration of your notice or your lease.

If you are an elderly, handicapped, or low- or moderate income tenant and you do not buy the unit at the end of 90 days, the landlord must help you find a new apartment.16 This apartment must be in the same town where you now live and must be comparable to your current apartment in terms of rent and conditions. If your landlord does not find you a comparable apartment, you are entitled to up to an additional two years in your current apartment.17

3. Rent Protections

If you receive notice of a conversion, the law controls how much your landlord can increase your rent. The owner of the building or any subsequent owner of your condo cannot increase your rent by more than 10% per year or the increase in the Consumer Price Index the year before your landlord gave you notice, whichever is less.18 This applies to tenants with or without leases. For example, if your landlord gave you notice that your apartment was being converted to a condo in 2016, and the increase in the Consumer Price Index was 0.8% in 2015, your rent could not be raised more than 0.8%.

If you have a written lease, your landlord cannot raise your rent until the lease expires. The one exception is that the landlord can increase the amount of rent as described in the previous paragraph if you have what is called a "tax escalator clause" in your lease. If your lease has a tax escalator clause, your landlord may be able to raise the rent before the lease expires if the property taxes go up.19 See Chapter 5: Rent for more information about tax escalator clauses.

If you have a written lease, the landlord must also renew your lease for however long you are allowed to remain in your apartment under the identical terms. For example, if you had a lease that expired September 1, 2016, and the landlord gave you one-year notice of condo conversion in February 2016, the landlord would have to extend your lease on its original terms until February 2017.

In an effort to avoid giving tenants proper notice of conversion or moving expenses, some landlords have attempted to raise rents before they actually file a master deed, thereby forcing existing tenants out. Under the law, however, the owner merely has to have an "intent to convert" in order for tenants to be protected against rent increases.20

4. Moving Expenses

If you get a notice of conversion, your landlord may have to pay a certain amount to cover your moving costs. A landlord must pay your moving expenses if:

  • You do not owe any rent, and
  • You voluntarily move out before the date on the conversion notice.

You are entitled to a maximum of $750. If you are an elderly, handicapped, or low- or moderate-income tenant, you are entitled to a maximum of $1,000.21 You must document your actual moving expenses.

Endnotes

7 . Chapter 527 of the Acts of 1983 (approved November 30, 1983). The text of the relevant sections of this chapter can be found in any compilation of the Acts of 1983 legislative session, and is also printed in the annotations in G.L. c. 183A, §1. This legislation grew out of efforts that began in 1978 with an ad hoc statewide group of advocates and community activists called the Condominium Conversion Task Force. Up until this point, local groups in each community had organized to deal only with their local housing and condominium problems. Several cities and towns adopted condominium conversion ordinances, only to have them invalidated by the courts because home rule authority from the legislature was required. See Bannerman v. City of Fall River, 391 Mass. 328 (1984); CHR General, Inc. v. City of Newton, 387 Mass. 351(1982). In the early 1980s, the Massachusetts Tenants Organization (MTO), formed partially as a response to the rental housing crisis (which had been made worse by condominium conversion), helped build a solid base of support for condo legislation. MTO first pushed for a complete ban on conversion, but could not get sufficient legislative support. Following the election of Governor Michael Dukakis in 1982, new discussions began to evolve around a more modest local option bill, providing statewide minimum standards and giving each community the authority to enact its own law to meet local needs. The rationale for this approach was that each community had a different problem. Some localities even wanted to encourage condominiums to build up the tax base. Other communities wanted to protect the scarce supply of rental housing and prevent displacement. In 1983, MTO and the real estate industry agreed to a bill that provided a minimum condominium conversion eviction notice standard for all localities. Despite the fact that realtors reneged on this agreement at the last minute, Governor Dukakis worked closely with MTO and was successful in guiding Chapter 527 of the Acts of 1983 (approved November 30, 1983) through the legislature. The result was a victory for tenant organizing, even though tenants had to abandon the notion of a condominium conversion ban.

8 . The state condo law was subsequently amended in 1984 (making several technical revisions related to cooperatives), in 1989 (making a number of substantive changes as recommended by the Attorney General's office to clarify and improve protections), and in 1990 (making clear that a locality's or a local housing authority's right of first refusal could trump that of an individual tenant). See Chapter 170 of the Acts of 1984, Sections 4–5 (approved July 9, 1984); Chapter 709 of the Acts of 1989 (approved January 12, 1990); Chapter 520 of the Acts of 1990, Section 8 (approved January 2, 1991)..

9 . Condo regulation may continue as long as it is not part of a regulatory scheme requiring below-market rentals. See G.L. c. 40P, §§3-4; see also Chapter 282 of the Acts of 1994 (approved January 4, 1995) (phasing out rent control, though exempting Chapter 527 of the Acts of 1983 (approved November 30, 1983)from its provisions); Greater Boston Real Estate Board v. City of Boston (“GBREB II”), 428 Mass. 797, 799 (1999); Fore L Realty Trust v. McManus, 71 Mass. App. Ct. 605 (2008); Davenport Manor v. McNeil, Western Housing Court, 06-SP-01975 (Fein, J., Aug. 9. 2006).

10 . Chapter 527 of the Acts of 1983, Section 4(a) (approved November 30, 1983).

11 . See Chapter 12: Evictions, discussing G.L. c. 239, § 9 (right to request stay of execution of up to 6 months in any case, and up to 12 months if household member is 60 years of age or older or a person with disabilities, in “no fault” eviction). See also Grace v. Town of Brookline, 379 Mass. 43 (1979) (discussing that notice period is separate from stays which court may grant). A court might elect to factor in any prior relocation period provided, though, in making its discretionary decision about what stay of execution is appropriate.

12 . Chapter 527 of the Acts of 1983, Section 4(b) (approved November 30, 1983).

13 . A right of first refusal is a discretionary agreement in which a party has an option to purchase, usually for a definite time period. For instance, it could be written into a lease that a tenant has the right to purchase for the first 30 days following receipt of the notice of intent to convert.

14 . There is a limited exception to this if the city or town or the local housing authority exercises any right of first refusal that it may have to purchase the unit for the purpose of providing affordable housing. Such a right of first refusal can trump the tenant's right of first refusal. See Chapter 527 of the Acts of 1983 (approved November 30, 1983), as amended by Chapter 520 of the Acts of 1990, Section 8 (approved January 2, 1991).

15 . Chapter 527 of the Acts of 1983, Section 4(b) (approved November 30, 1983).

16 . Chapter 527 of the Acts of 1983, Section 4(d) (approved November 30, 1983).

17 . Chapter 527 of the Acts of 1983, Section 4(d) (approved November 30, 1983). See Beaconview Investments, LLC v. Entis, 2009 Mass. App. Div. 110 (owner identified comparable apartments for elderly tenant, and therefore notice period limited to two years).

18 . Chapter 527 of the Acts of 1983, Section 4(e) (approved November 30, 1983), as amended by Chapter 709 of the Acts of 1989, Section 18 (approved January 12, 1990).

19 . Chapter 527 of the Acts of 1983, Section 4(e) (approved November 30, 1983); ;see also G.L. c. 186, §15C.

20 . See Chapter 527 of the Acts of 1983 (approved November 30, 1983), as amended by Chapter 709 of the Acts of 1989 (approved January 12, 1990). The 1989 amendments to Chapter 527 of the Acts of 1983 (approved November 30, 1983), as recommended by the Attorney General's office, made clear that tenants would not lose protections because formal condo notices had not been given (such as where a developer tried to oust tenants through subterfuge). Instead, as long as it could be shown through a variety of means that the owner had an "intent to convert," this would be sufficient to trigger protections under the statewide law.

21 . Chapter 527 of the Acts of 1983, Section 4(c) (approved November 30, 1983).

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

Ask a Law Librarian

If it's
Monday-Friday
between
9am and 4pm