Your rights and responsibilities as either a landlord or a tenant depend on whether the tenancy is based on a lease or is an at-will tenancy.
Tenancy based on a lease
When a tenant signs a lease with a landlord, the tenant agrees that the tenancy will last for a certain amount of time, often one year. During that time, the monthly rent must stay the same and the landlord cannot end the tenancy (evict the tenant) unless the tenant fails to satisfy the conditions in the lease. The tenant is committed to paying rent for the term of the lease and may only end the tenancy before the close of the lease term if the landlord agrees to an early termination of the lease.
A lease is a good option for tenants and landlords seeking stability in a tenancy. The written agreement between the tenant and the landlord should contain all of the rules that will apply to the tenancy.
In a tenancy-at-will the agreement lasts for as long as both parties want to do business with each other. Sometimes there is no written agreement at all in a tenancy-at-will, but often the tenant is asked to sign a form that says “Rental Agreement” or “Tenancy-at-Will” at the top. This form should include the amount of the monthly rent and basic rules.
A tenancy-at-will does not last for any set amount of time and does not end on a certain date, the way a lease does. In a tenancy-at-will the tenant pays the agreed-upon rent each month for an indefinite period of time. Either the landlord or the tenant can decide to end the tenancy by giving the other party notice either 30 days or one month before the due date of the next rent payment, whichever is longer. In this type of agreement, the rent can change within the same 30 days or one month before the tenancy ends.
Obligations of the landlord and the tenant
Whether a lease or a tenancy-at-will, the tenant must pay rent, follow the rules agreed upon with the landlord, and accept responsibility for any damage to the apartment that is more than just “normal wear and tear." The landlord must provide an apartment that is safe, clean, and in compliance with the Massachusetts Sanitary Code, and must keep any promises in the lease or rental agreement.
Regardless of the tenancy type, the tenant has a right to occupy the apartment and the landlord may only enter under certain circumstances. The landlord must arrange with the tenant in advance to enter the apartment to make repairs, to inspect the condition of the apartment, or to show the apartment to prospective tenants, buyers, or real estate agents. However, the landlord may enter an apartment without a tenant’s approval if there is a mechanical/repair emergency that has the potential to damage the whole building, or if it appears that the tenant has abandoned the apartment.
Although not required by laws or regulations, it is important for both a landlord and a tenant to know that they can negotiate with each other over the terms of a lease. In general, the landlord should not rush a tenant to make a decision, and both parties should be very clear about the terms and conditions before either signs the lease. Any changes should be written down into the lease in pen. Any sections that the landlord and tenant agree to change should be crossed out in the lease.