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Tenants with Leases

Produced by Pattie Whiting
Reviewed May 2017

A lease is a written agreement between a landlord and a tenant. It states the amount of the rent and the length of your tenancy. If you sign a one year lease for an apartment with rent of $950 a month, you agree to pay the landlord $950 every month for one year. During this year, the landlord cannot raise the rent. Nor can she evict you just because she may want you to move out. During this year, the landlord can evict you only if you have not paid your rent or if you don't follow the terms of your lease. For example, if the lease says you cannot have pets and you get a dog without your landlord's permission.

1. Is My Lease Legal

Your landlord cannot force you to follow the terms of the lease if the lease is not legal. See Chapter 1: Before you Move In - Is Your Lease Legal

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If your lease is legal, it may have clauses that are not legal. Your landlord cannot force you to follow any illegal lease clauses, see Chapter 1: Before you Move In - Are There Illegal Clauses.

2. How Long Is my Lease Valid

Most leases are for a fixed period of time—for example, 1 year. You need to know if your lease is "self extending" or you have an option to renew. Usually, you can figure this out by reading the first 10 or 15 lines of the lease.

a. Self extending Leases

You have a self extending lease if your lease says something like:

. . . this lease will continue in full force and effect after the above term from year to year until either the Lessor (landlord) or the Lessee (tenant), on or before the first day of the month in any year, gives to the other written notice of intention to terminate this lease. . . .

This means, you or your landlord must give the other written notice if you want to terminate the tenancy. If neither you nor your landlord gives the other notice, your lease continues or "extends" automatically for another year. If the original lease was not 1 year, it extends for the same amount of time as the original lease.

If you have a self extending lease, the terms of your original lease stay the same. You can only change them if you and your landlord agree and write it on the lease. If you want to leave, pay attention to when the lease says you must give your landlord notice. Usually, leases say you must give your landlord notice at least 1 month before the lease ends.

b. Option to Renew

You have an option to renew if your lease says something like:

. . . the tenant's option to renew must be exercised in writing and must be received by the landlord no less than __ days before the expiration of this lease. . . .

This means:

  • If you want to stay, you must give your landlord written notice by the date specified in the lease.
  • If you plan to leave at the end of the lease, you do not have to give a landlord notice.

Read your lease to figure out when you must give your landlord notice that you want to renew the lease. Write this on your calendar so you remember to do this.

If you want to stay for another lease term, you may have to enter into a new lease or sign the existing lease again.1 The new lease can have the same terms as the old lease. Or you or your landlord can change certain terms. For example, your landlord may want to increase the rent. See Chapter 5: Rent.

If you have an option to renew and you do not give your landlord notice in time and then you decide to stay, you will become:

  • a tenant at will if your landlord agrees to your staying, or
  • a tenant at sufferance if your landlord tells you to leave.

Endnotes

1 . Lebel v. Backman, 342 Mass. 759, 763 (1961) (holding that mere notice to renew or extend may be sufficient to extend or renew absent a new instrument); Scirpo v. McMillan, 355 Mass. 657, 659 (1969) Note that the use of the word "renew" is not sufficient to imply renewal if the circumstances showed that the party contemplated an extension. Gibbs Realty & Investment Corp. v. Carvel Stores Realty Corp., 351 Mass. 684, 686 (1967).

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.

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