What is a security deposit? Is there a security deposit law in Massachusetts?

A security deposit is a sum of money paid by a tenant to a landlord at the beginning of a tenancy, which is held in trust by the landlord, to offset the cost of repair of any unreasonable damage to the rental property caused by the tenant, other occupants, or their guests during the tenancy.  

Section 15B of Chapter 186 of the General Laws of Massachusetts (M.G.L. c. 186, 15B) is the law that deals with security deposits and last month’s rent paid in advance (does not apply to tenancies of 100 days or less or vacation rentals). Additionally, there is a Massachusetts regulation which addresses security deposits and other landlord-tenant issues (940 CMR 3.17 pdf format of 940 CMR 3.17
). Federally subsidized housing is also subject to federal laws and regulations.  

What amount of security deposit may a landlord collect?

A landlord may request a security deposit of no more than one month’s rent. The amount may be less in certain types of subsidized housing.  

What other payments may a landlord collect at the beginning of a tenancy?

In addition to the first month’s rent and a security deposit, a landlord may collect last month’s rent paid in advance and the cost of a new lock and key.

Must the landlord give a receipt to the tenant for the security deposit?

Yes, a landlord is required to give a written receipt to the tenant at the time of accepting the security deposit. The receipt should include the amount of the security deposit, the name of the person receiving it, the date it was received, the names of the landlord and tenant, and the address (or other description) of the leased property.

What about a statement of condition of the property?

Within 10 days of collecting a security deposit, the landlord must provide a signed statement to the tenant that describes the condition of the property, including any known damage and violations of the state sanitary and building codes. The following language must appear at the top of the statement of condition, which informs the tenant of what to do after receiving it from the landlord.

“This is a statement of the condition of the premises you have leased or rented. You should read it carefully in order to see if it is correct. If it is correct you must sign it. This will show that you agree that the list is correct and complete. If it is not correct, you must attach a separate signed list of any damage which you believe exists in the premises. This statement must be returned to the lessor or his agent within fifteen days after you receive this list or within fifteen days after you move in, whichever is later. If you do not return this list, within the specified time period, a court may later view your failure to return the list as your agreement that the list is complete and correct in any suit which you may bring to recover the security deposit.”

If the tenant disagrees with the statement of condition and submits a list of additional damages, the landlord has an additional 15 days to either agree to the tenant’s list by signing it and returning it to the tenant or to provide the tenant with a signed statement of disagreement.