Massachusetts Rent Control Laws in 2024

Rent control refers to laws that limit how much landlords can raise rents on residential properties. The goal of rent control is to provide stability and affordability for tenants in cities with rising housing costs. 

Rent control has a history in Massachusetts dating back to the 1970s. In response to rising rents in the 1960s, cities like Boston, Cambridge, Brookline, and Somerville adopted local ordinances establishing rent control boards and regulations. This allowed the cities to limit rent increases, often only allowing “reasonable and just” increases related to costs or improvements.

However, statewide rent control was banned in Massachusetts in 1994. Currently, no city or town can adopt rent control, with the exception of Cambridge which was grandfathered in. Efforts have been made to try to restore some form of rent control, but so far have not succeeded in passing the state legislature.

Today, while there is no statewide rent control, Cambridge still maintains its rent control protections for tenants. In other cities like Boston, there are no limits on how much a landlord can raise the rent from year to year. Tenant advocacy groups continue to argue rent regulations are needed to provide stability amid rising housing costs.

Rent Control Laws in MA Before 1994

Rent control laws in Massachusetts were first adopted in the late 1960s and early 1970s in response to rising housing costs. Several cities passed local ordinances to regulate rent increases.

The cities of Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline were the first to establish rent control. Boston's ordinance was passed in 1970, Cambridge followed in 1972, and Brookline in 1973. Other cities such as Lynn and Somerville eventually passed some form of rent regulation as well.

Under rent control in these cities, landlords were limited in how much they could raise rents each year. In Boston and Cambridge, rent increases were tied to the consumer price index, typically allowing for increases of around 3-5% annually. 

Landlords could apply for exceptions to raise rents beyond the allowed amount through a petition process. Reasons included capital improvements, increases in property taxes, or lack of net operating income. Tenant groups often opposed these exceptions.

Rent control created a system of "controlled" vs "decontrolled" units. It applied only to units occupied prior to adoption. Once a tenant moved out, the unit would become decontrolled and rents could be raised without limit to match market prices. This led to a gradual depletion of rent controlled units over time.

The laws succeeded in stabilizing rents and providing predictability for tenants in a period of rising housing prices. However, it became controversial over whether it discouraged new construction and maintenance of units. The system was complex to administer, requiring rent boards and mediation processes.

The 1994 Ban on Rent Control

In 1994, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law that prohibited rent control statewide. The bill was approved by a Democrat-controlled legislature and signed by Republican Governor William Weld. 

Prior to 1994, several cities in Massachusetts had some form of rent control, including Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline. These regulations limited how much landlords could raise rents each year. For example, in Boston the rent control law capped annual rent increases at around 4-8%, depending on inflation.

The push to ban rent control statewide came from landlords and real estate developers. They argued that rent regulations reduced the profitability of rental housing and discouraged new construction. This created shortages of affordable housing over time as the population increased. 

Landlords and developers were able to successfully lobby state legislators to pass the rent control ban. Some key arguments that resonated were:

  • Rent control reduces incentives for landlords to maintain and improve their properties if they can't sufficiently raise rents. This leads to a deterioration of the housing stock over time.
  • Limiting rents would discourage real estate developers from investing in new rental housing construction, exacerbating shortages.
  • Rent control unfairly burdened some landlords and benefited some long-term tenants who were able to maintain low rents.
  • It constrained the free market supply and demand dynamics around rental housing pricing.

While tenant advocacy groups strongly opposed the ban, arguing that rent regulations protected tenants from excessive rent increases, they were ultimately unsuccessful. Once the statewide ban passed, cities like Boston and Cambridge had to phase out their rent control laws over the next several years per the legislation.

Attempts to Restore Rent Control

In recent years, there have been growing calls from tenant advocacy groups and progressive lawmakers to restore some form of rent regulation in Massachusetts cities with rising housing costs like Boston and Cambridge. 

Rent control proponents argue that bringing back protections would help stabilize rents and prevent price gouging, displacement, and gentrification. They contend rent regulations are needed to keep people in their homes and neighborhoods. 

In 2018, a coalition of over a dozen tenant organizations launched the campaign Lift the Ban to repeal the statewide prohibition on rent control. The group proposed giving cities and towns the authority to adopt rent stabilization policies again if they choose. Local rent control ordinances would be tailored to the needs of each municipality.

Also in 2018, State Representative Mike Connolly of Cambridge filed a Home Rule Petition that would allow Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville to re-establish rent control boards and limit how much landlords could increase rents. However, the bill did not receive a vote before the session ended. 

In 2019, Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards filed a similar Home Rule Petition focused just on Boston to exempt it from the statewide ban. Again, the bill did not make it through the State House. Critics argued the proposals represented an overreach into the private housing market. 

Undeterred by these setbacks, tenant advocates continue to mobilize support for restoring local control over rent regulations. With housing affordability worsening, they hope political leaders will eventually have the motivation to revisit the issue.

Rent Increase Protections 

Massachusetts does not have a statewide limit on how much landlords can raise rents each year. However, landlords must provide proper written notice before raising rents on tenants.

In the city of Cambridge, rent control laws limit annual rent increases to around 3-6%, depending on inflation. Landlords in Cambridge must get approval from the Cambridge Rent Control Board before imposing rent hikes above the limit.

While there is no statewide cap on rent increases, Massachusetts law prohibits illegal rent increases:

Retaliatory increases

Landlords cannot raise rent in retaliation for a tenant exercising legal rights, like filing a complaint.

Discriminatory increases

Landlords cannot raise rent selectively based on race, gender, religion, nationality, disability, or family status.

Increases without proper notice

Landlords must provide written notice before raising rent (30-90 days depending on lease terms). Increases without proper notice are invalid.

Tenants facing unreasonable rent hikes should review local tenant rights laws and consult an attorney. Organizations like Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants (MAHT) can provide assistance and legal referrals.

Tenant Rights in Massachusetts 

Tenants in Massachusetts have several important rights under state law that provide protections when renting. Some key rights that tenants should be aware of include:

Right to a Habitable Dwelling

Under Massachusetts law, tenants have a right to live in a dwelling that is deemed habitable and fit for human occupancy. This means the unit must have hot and cold running water, heat, light, and electricity. Landlords are required to make any necessary repairs to keep the unit habitable. If a landlord fails to make repairs after being notified, tenants have the right to withhold rent or make repairs and deduct the cost from rent.

Protection from Discrimination

Landlords in Massachusetts cannot refuse to rent to a tenant or impose different rental terms based on race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, sex, familial status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, occupation, or public assistance status. Tenants who experience discrimination should file a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

Protection from Retaliation

Massachusetts law prohibits landlords from retaliating against tenants who exercise their legal rights. For example, a landlord cannot illegally evict or raise a tenant's rent because the tenant filed an official complaint about housing code violations. Tenants have legal recourse if landlords engage in retaliatory actions.

Right to Withhold Rent for Repairs

If a landlord fails to maintain the unit in habitable condition after being notified in writing, tenants can withhold rent until repairs are made. Tenants should place the rent money in an escrow account and get guidance from local housing agencies before withholding rent to ensure it is done properly.

Tenants in Massachusetts have important legal protections and recourse options if their rights are being violated by a landlord. Getting familiar with tenant rights under MA state law is an essential first step for any renter.

Breaking a Lease in MA

Tenants in Massachusetts may break a lease under certain conditions without penalties, but proper notice is still required. 

Conditions Allowed for Breaking a Lease

There are a few specific reasons that allow a tenant to break a lease early in MA:

  • Active military duty - Members of the armed forces who receive deployment orders can terminate their lease with 30 days notice.
  • Domestic violence - Victims of domestic violence can break a lease in MA with proper documentation.
  • Unsafe conditions - If a rental unit is deemed uninhabitable or unsafe due to violations by the landlord, the tenant can break the lease.
  • Landlord harassment - Tenants who experience harassment from a landlord may be able to break the lease.

Outside of those conditions, a tenant who breaks a lease early in MA without the landlord's approval may be subject to penalties or fees for the remaining rent owed.

Proper Notice Required  

Even if a tenant has valid grounds to break a lease in MA, they must still provide proper notice as required by state law:

  • Month to month lease - 30 days notice
  • 1 year lease - 3 months notice  
  • 2+ year lease - 6 months notice

The notice must be written and state the date the tenant plans to vacate. Failure to provide adequate notice can still result in financial penalties.

Recovering the Security Deposit

When breaking a lease for legally valid reasons, the tenant should be able to recover their full security deposit from the landlord in MA. Wrongful withholding of the deposit can be challenged in small claims court.

The tenant is expected to leave the unit in the same condition as when first rented, minus normal wear and tear. Photographic evidence is recommended. If damages exceed the deposit, the tenant may still be liable for the excess amount.

Resources for Tenants

There are a number of organizations and resources available to help educate and support tenants in Massachusetts.

Tenant Rights Overview

All tenants in Massachusetts have certain rights protected by state law, including the right to a habitable living space, protection from discrimination, and protection from retaliation from landlords. The state sanctions against landlords who violate these rights.  

Tenants also have certain responsibilities, like properly maintaining the rental unit and paying rent on time. Understanding both tenant rights and responsibilities is key.

Tenant Organizations

  • Massachusetts Tenants Organization - Statewide group that provides a tenant rights handbook, sample letters, organizing support, and referrals.
  • City Life / Vida Urbana - Boston-based nonprofit that organizes tenants to fight evictions and displacement. Provides free legal clinics.
  • Cambridge Tenants Organization - Advocates for tenant rights and affordable housing in Cambridge. Provides counseling and legal referrals.
  • Metro West Legal Services - Provides free legal aid to low-income tenants facing eviction in the MetroWest region. 
  • Neighborhood Legal Services - Serves Central and Western Massachusetts with free civil legal aid, including housing cases.
  • MassLegalHelp - Provides online guide to tenants' rights laws in Massachusetts. 

Tenants can check with their local housing authority to learn about tenant rights workshops offered in their community. Connecting with tenant organizations can help navigate the rental housing landscape.

Resources for Landlords 

There are several resources available to assist landlords in Massachusetts understand their rights and responsibilities. Landlord associations and legal services can provide guidance on the state laws and regulations impacting the rental housing market.

Landlord Associations

Landlord associations advocate on behalf of property owners and managers. They offer services like legal advice, lease templates, credit checks, and educational training. Some of the top associations in Massachusetts include:

  • [MassLandlords]( - Provides education, forms, and advocacy for landlords across the state. Offers discounts on services like credit checks and rent collection.
  • [Boston Property Management Association]( - Focuses on serving landlords in the Greater Boston region. Offers networking events, an annual trade expo, and access to service providers. 
  • [Worcester Property Owners Association]( - Represents landlords in the Worcester area. Provides a help line, monthly meetings, and an email listserv.
  • [Western Massachusetts Landlord Association]( - Serves members in Western MA by offering sample lease agreements, credit reports, helplines, and training programs.

Overview of Landlord Rights 

Landlords in Massachusetts have legal rights when it comes to managing their rental properties. Some key rights include:

  • Right to collect rent in a timely manner. Tenants must pay by the due date in the lease.
  • Right to collect a security deposit, within limits set by state law. Normal wear and tear cannot be deducted.
  • Right to access the rental unit with proper notice for repairs and maintenance. 24 hours notice is required. 
  • Right to initiate eviction proceedings for lease violations like non-payment of rent. Proper notice must be given.
  • Right to dictate the rules and policies for the property, within the bounds of state and local laws.

Landlords should be aware of their responsibilities as well. This includes providing a habitable living space and making necessary repairs. Discrimination and retaliation against tenants is prohibited.

Frequently Asked Questions About Rent Control in MA

Does Massachusetts currently have any form of rent control?

No, Massachusetts does not currently have any statewide rent control laws. Rent control was banned statewide in 1994. However, the city of Cambridge does still have rent control for certain units, as Cambridge adopted rent control before the statewide ban. 

What are the limits on rent increases in Cambridge? 

For rent controlled units in Cambridge, landlords can only raise rents by a certain percentage each year, based on the Consumer Price Index. The exact limit varies year-to-year. Landlords in Cambridge must also have just cause for larger rent increases on controlled units.

Can a landlord increase my rent by any amount they want?

Outside of Cambridge, there is no limit on rent increases statewide in MA. However, landlords must provide proper notice before raising rents - 30 days notice for a rent increase of less than 10%, and 60 days notice for increases over 10%.

What should I do if my landlord raises my rent excessively?  

If you feel your rent was raised unfairly, retaliatorily, or discriminately, contact local tenant advocacy groups for assistance. You may be able to challenge unreasonable rent increases in court depending on the circumstances. Withholding rent without cause is not advised.

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