What You Need to Know About Renting and Illegal Fees

Protecting Tenants from paying illegal fees. Pet fees are illegal per MA Law.

Rentals-How Much Can a Landlord Charge: By MASSACHUSETTS LAW

When you move in, the most your landlord can charge you is:

The first month's rent,

The last month's rent,

A security deposit, up to the amount of the first month's rent, and the cost of a new lock.

Whenever you pay the landlord any money, get a signed and dated receipt that says how much money you gave the landlord and what it was for.

If the landlord requires that you pay the last month's rent in advance or a security deposit, the law requires that the landlord give you a receipt. You have a right to a receipt. If your landlord does not give you a receipt, ask for one. Or, you can use the sample receipt (see Form 4). The receipt must have certain information in it. To find out exactly what information a landlord must include in this receipt, see Providing Written Receipts in Chapter 3: Security Deposits and Last Month's Rent.

Never give your landlord cash for rent or anything else without getting a written receipt. If a landlord won't give you a receipt for cash, don't give her the cash. Use a check or get a money order and write on it what the payment was for. Then put the cancelled check or stub for the money order in a safe place.

Illegal Fees

When landlords rent apartments to new tenants, they often try to get more money than just the rent. They may try to tack on extra fees such as "holding deposits," "rental fees," "pet fees," or "application fees." These extra charges are illegal. The problem is, if you refuse to pay these fees, a landlord may refuse to allow you to move in. Often, the best course is to pay the illegal fees or the illegally high rent and then take it out of your future rent payments after you have safely moved in. Again, make sure to get a written, signed, dated receipt for any money you pay.

The only extra charge the law allows is for a rental agent to charge a "finder's fee." A rental agent can charge a finder's fee only if she is a licensed real estate broker or salesperson. If the rental agent is also the landlord, the law may prohibit her from charging a finder's fee. To find out if a rental agent is a licensed real estate broker, go to the internet at: Board of Registration of Real Estate Brokers & Salespersons and click on "Check a License."

Pet Deposits and Pet Rental Fees

If you have a pet, a landlord may demand that you pay a "pet deposit" to protect the landlord in the event that your pet causes damage to the unit. While such a deposit is clearly illegal if the landlord is also collecting a security deposit equal to the first month's rent, a landlord may not let you move in unless you agree to pay the additional deposit.

A new trend is that some landlords are also trying to charge what they are calling "pet rental fees," which take the form of an increased monthly rent if you have a pet (for example, $20 extra each month if you have a cat]. There is a question as to whether pet rental fees are legal.

If a landlord demands that you pay a pet rental fee, ask the landlord what this money is for. If the landlord or a management company says that it is to protect the landlord against damage that a pet might cause, try to convince the landlord that this is what the security deposit is for and that you feel your rent should be the same as what another prospective tenant without a pet would be charged. You also could try to get a letter from your old landlord stating that your pet did not cause damage to your previous apartment.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jacki Santini January 16, 2013 at 04:50 AM
Kevin- I want to clarify. Bringing a pet in on the middle of a lease, knowing that pets are not allowed, wouldn't fly. You do need to get permission from the Landlord upfront and have it written in your lease.
Wayne Sullivan January 16, 2013 at 04:52 AM
So sorry to hear your parents won't let you have a pet in the basement! Maybe they will let you get a gold fish!
MAHOMES January 17, 2013 at 08:55 PM
Jacki, Smoke detectors failed to operate to properly give tenants knowledge of a fire in their lease cottage. The tenants were awaken to smoke throughout the home and managed to escape to safety. However tenants incurred substantial damage to personal property. It's important to note: Landlord was in the cottage just 2 days before fire occurred reparing a window slash and 2 prior dates (60 days or so ) Smoke detectors never beeped. Which leads one to assume Landlord never replaced the batteries at the start of the tenancy. Tenants were unaware of they should have been given a " statement of condition" form after secuity deposit was given. Tenants were also unaware they should have been given the proper lead closure forms. Fire was deemed to have been electrical in nature and caused by an exterior GFI was caught on fire. However the Fire Report did indicate the smoke detectors failed to operate. Can a landlord be held liable in the state of Massachusetts to their tenants for their personal property damage and emotional stress and violations of the Ma. Consumer Protection.
Jacki Santini January 20, 2013 at 12:46 AM
Statement of Condition Within ten days of your giving a landlord a security deposit, the landlord must give you a document called a Statement of Condition. The purpose of a Statement of Condition is to prevent disputes between you and your landlord when you move out about what damage you may have caused and what damage existed when you moved in. This statement, which must be signed by the landlord, must list all damage existing in your apartment and the common areas of the place you are renting at the time you move in. You then have an opportunity to add damages that exist that the landlord has not included in the list. This includes all Sanitary Code violations cited by the Board of Health or found by a court.
Jacki Santini January 20, 2013 at 12:47 AM
Take the Statement of Condition Seriously If the landlord gives you a Statement of Condition, you are required by law to return it to the landlord within 15 days of receiving it. Make sure that you keep a copy of whatever you send back to the landlord. You may either sign the Statement of Condition without making any changes or you may attach your own list of damages that you believe exist on the premises. Take this task seriously. Check over the apartment carefully before signing the statement, and consult Booklet 2: Housing Code Checklist. Add to your list even small defects, such as holes in the walls and windows that do not work well. If you sign the landlord's statement as is or you fail to send it back within 15 days of receiving it, this means that you agree that the landlord's list is correct and complete. If you send the landlord your own list of damages, the landlord must return a copy, with her signature, within 15 days, noting her agreement or disagreement with your list.


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