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June 26, 2017

Not All Lease Language is Legally Valid

As a general rule, tenants learn that the lease (also known as rental agreement) is a valid contract that serves as the final authority for identifying their rights and responsibilities. Still, lease language is governed by Massachusetts law, with the subsections of Section 15 within the Massachusetts General Laws identifying various invalid lease provisions.

Even if landlords can point to specific lease clauses to assert their authority, tenants need to know the applicable laws well enough to recognize when their legal rights as renters outweigh certain lease clauses. In cases of uncertainty, an experienced Boston lease lawyer can help clarify their rights.

Strict Laws Apply to Allowable Clauses in Leases

Landlords have some degree of latitude when formulating the clauses in leases. Pet limitations are a common example. However, just because the lease contains written language does not make that language allowable under Massachusetts law. Some examples of invalid clauses include the following:

  • Waivers of required notices: If the law says that a landlord must issue notice of certain conditions, the lease cannot override those legal requirements. For example, if a lease states that the landlord can remove tenants from the premises without issuing the Notice to Quit and progressing through the entire eviction process, that statement would be invalid.
  • Requirement to pay invalid fees or utilities: The law specifies the fees and deposits that landlords can allocate to tenants. It further states that tenants cannot be held responsible for paying utilities for unmetered properties, for example, if electricity costs are charged for the entire building, rather than for individual tenant usage.
  • Free access to enter the property: While emergency situations might require landlords to enter tenant property without notice, lease language cannot grant them the right to enter the premises unexpectedly.
  • Property-tax based rent increases: MA law permits tax escalator clauses, which can permit increases in rent during a lease period when property taxes rise. That said, the law requires landlords to apply only a specific percentage of an increase based on the premises they rent — and to refund or otherwise make rent credits that apply to tax refunds received or negotiated tax abatements.
  • Clauses that limit landlord’s legal liability: Landlords are legally liable for certain failures that result in tenant injuries or unexpected removal from the property. No lease clause can limit landlord liability or force tenants to waive their legal right to courtroom litigation.

Of course, these are just some common examples that illustrate ways that certain lease clauses can unjustly affect tenants. The key point here is that putting invalid requirements in writing within leases do not make them enforceable under the law.

The Best Time to Identify Illegal Clauses is Before Signing the Lease

Even when tenants sign a lease that contains illegal provisions, MA lease law still protects them from unfair treatment. However, a lease that contains too many invalid clauses might serve to warn tenants about potential future difficulties with a particular landlord.

It is essential to carefully read lease agreements prior to signing them, even those presented as standard leases. In the event that the terms appear unreasonable, it may be time to contact the Law Offices of Shaun A. Hannafin at (617) 848-4572 for a lease review.

Posted in Landlord-Tenant Information



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