Massachusetts Residential Leases and Security Deposits: What Landlords and Tenants Must Know

Posted On August 10, 2017 by Murphy Law Group in Real Estate Law
Massachusetts Lease Security Deposit

August and September are busy months for residential leases, particularly in college towns. Massachusetts General Laws chapter 186, §15B provides specific and detailed guidelines with respect to security deposits for landlords and tenants.  It is important for both landlords and tenants to familiarize themselves with some of the basic procedures that are in place regarding security deposits.  For landlords, even the slightest mishandling of a tenant’s security deposit can lead to severely punitive consequences.  As a tenant, it is important to understand your rights and how your deposit is being handled. Below is a summary of some of the most important issues that are covered under the Massachusetts Security Deposit Statute:

Summary of the Massachusetts Security Deposit Rules

  • Although a tenant may hand over a security deposit at the start of the lease, that deposit remains the property of the tenant during the lease. In order to protect the deposit, the landlord must place the security deposit in a separate, interest bearing bank account in Massachusetts that cannot be comingled with the landlord’s other assets.
  • Within thirty days after receiving the security deposit, a landlord is required to provide a tenant with a receipt indicating the name and location of the bank in which the deposit has been deposited, as well as the amount and account number of the deposit.
  • A landlord that accepts a security deposit must provide its tenant with a written statement of condition for the premises. The statement of condition should list all damage to the property that existed prior to the lease.  If the tenant agrees with the statement, they should sign and return the statement to the landlord.  If the tenant disagrees with anything in the statement of condition they must also make a separate written list of damages and provide it to their landlord.  Failing to note previously existing damages in a statement of condition can lead to a dispute over the security deposit at the end of the lease.
  • A security deposit can only be applied to three things: unpaid rent, unpaid real estate taxes, or damages to the dwelling caused by the tenant or a person under the tenant’s control.
  • If a landlord deducts from a security deposit due to damage, the landlord must provide the tenant with an itemized list of damages that describes in detail the damages and the repairs that were made to such damages. This itemized list must be signed by the landlord or his/her agent and sworn under the pains and penalties of perjury.
  • If a landlord fails to comply with the strict provisions of the Security Deposit Statute, they forfeit their rights to the security deposit. Moreover, a landlord could be liable for damages in excess of the amount of the security deposit.  Pursuant to the statute, certain violations provide for damages in an amount equal to three times the amount of the security deposit, plus interest, court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.

What To Do If You Have a Security Deposit Dispute

These are only a few highlights of the complicated Massachusetts Security Deposit Statute. If you are a landlord, you should speak with an attorney before potentially mishandling your tenant’s security deposit.  If you are a tenant, you may want to contact a real estate attorney to find out whether your security deposit is being handled properly.  The Murphy Law Group has successfully represented tenants and landlords in security deposit disputes. If you would like to discuss this matter with a real estate lawyer at our North Andover office, give us a call at (978) 686-3200 or (617) 350-7700.