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Tenants at Sufferance

Produced by Patty Whiting
Reviewed May 2017

If you do not have your landlord's permission to stay in your apartment after your lease or agreement ends or after your landlord terminates your tenancy by sending you a notice to quit, you are a tenant at sufferance.6

You are a tenant at sufferance if:

  • Your written lease expires and the landlord wants you to leave.7 Your lease will expire if you do not renew it for another term or it is not self-extending. See How Long is My Lease Valid.
  • You have a lease and your landlord sends you a valid notice to quit that terminates your tenancy for not paying your rent or otherwise breaking your lease;
  • You were a tenant at will and your landlord sends you a valid 14 day notice to quit for non payment of rent8 or a 30-day notice to quit for any other reason; or
  • You are a subtenant and you are living in the apartment after the original tenant's lease or tenancy ended.9

To figure out if a notice to quit is valid, see Chapter 12: Evictions - Receiving Proper Notice.

Like other tenants, tenants at sufferance:

  • Have a right to a decent place to live,
  • Can ask a Board or Health or a court to order the landlord to make repairs,
  • Have the right to "lawful and exclusive possession,” which means a landlord can only come into your apartment with your permission (unless it’s an emergency or there is a court order),
  • Have the right to live there until a judge orders you to move, and
  • Have the right to sue their landlord for negligence.10

The biggest difference between a tenant at sufferance and other tenants is that if you are a tenant at sufferance a landlord does not have to give you a "notice to quit" to start the eviction process. She does not need to tell you ahead of time that she is going to ask the court to evict you.11

This does not mean that a landlord can come into your apartment and physically move you out. If you are a tenant at sufferance, a landlord must still go to court and ask the court for permission to evict you.

Even though the landlord does not have to send you a notice to quit before asking the court for permission to evict you, if she goes to court, she must send you notice of the eviction hearing. You must get a Summons and Complaint. If you receive a court summons, do not ignore it. Talk to a lawyer as soon as possible, and see Chapter 12: Evictions . You have a right to defend yourself in court and try to prevent the eviction or postpone it so you have time to move.

Can a Tenant at Sufferance Become a Tenant at Will

A tenancy at sufferance can easily be converted back into a tenancy at will. You and your landlord only need to agree to the arrangement. You can agree in writing, orally, or by your landlord's accepting rent without "reserving her rights." For example, if you pay rent at the beginning of the month and your landlord accepts it and does not say she reserves her right to have you leave the apartment, you become a tenant at will. If she wants to keep you as a tenant at sufferance, she must reserve her rights and should give you a receipt for rent paid stating "for use and occupancy only." If a landlord does not do this, you may become a tenant at will.12

Endnotes

6 . Staples v. Collins, 321 Mass. 449 (1947). A tenant at sufferance is not a trespasser. See G.L. c. 266, §120.

7 . Ames v. Beal, 284 Mass. 56, 59 (1933).

8 . G.L. c. 186, §12. Any tenant who has not received a 14-day notice to quit in the preceding 12 months may avoid becoming a tenant at sufferance by paying the rent due within 10 days of receiving the notice

9 . Evans v. Reed, 71 Mass. (5 Gray) 308, 309 (1855). Note: A tenancy at sufferance can also result from the termination of the original tenancy by operation of law for example, by the death of the original leaseholder or owner. See G.L. c. 186, §13.

10 . Traditionally, tenants at sufferance were hardly more than trespassers, Benton v. Williams, 202 Mass. 189, 192 (1909). In recent years, tenants at sufferance have gained most of the rights of tenants at will, such as the right to enforce the state Sanitary Code, Brown v. Guerrier, 390 Mass. 631, 633 (1983), and the right to sue the landlord for negligence, King v. G & M Realty Corp., 373 Mass. 658, 664 (1977). For an excellent summary of the traditional view of tenants at sufferance, see The Tenancy at Sufferance in Massachusetts, 44 Boston University Law Review 213 (1964).

11 . G.L. c. 184, §18; G.L. c. 186, §14; G.L. c. 186, §15F; and G.L. c. 266, §120. At one time, a landlord could evict a tenant without going to court, if she could do so without breaching the peace. This is no longer the law and your landlord must have a proper court order to evict you.

12 . Jones v. Webb, 320 Mass. 702, 706 (1947).

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