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Can A Landlord Ask For First, Last And Security In Massachusetts

By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 8 minute read

The excitement of relocating to a new rented home or apartment! In addition to packing up your belongings and relocating, you’ll need to set aside money for a security deposit on your new home and wait for your previous landlord to refund your security deposit.

When it comes to the cost of relocating, security deposits are often a major factor. Your security deposit is at risk if you don’t know your rights as a renter, don’t take excellent care of the property, and don’t check in with the landlord after you move out. As a service, I will explain seven fundamentals of security deposits.

Paying and Receiving Your Security Deposit

  1. Know Your Rights

Get familiar with the Landlord and Tenant Act in your state before you start looking for an apartment. Laws regarding security deposits might be stringent in some areas. These laws often impose the following restrictions:

  • Curbing how much can be put down as a deposit.
  • Tenants’ security deposits must be held in a separate, interest-bearing bank account from the landlord’s other funds.
  • Setting a deadline for the restoration of security deposits once tenants move away.

Most landlord-tenant statutes cannot be renegotiated. Although you and your landlord may have some wiggle room when it comes to discussing the terms of your lease, there may be provisions that neither of you may change due to local landlord-tenant rules.

Even while this clause is meant to safeguard your legal interests, it may wind up being an undue burden in some circumstances. If the law in your state only permits a security deposit equal to one month’s rent, and you have poor credit, you won’t be able to entice a landlord to rent to you by giving a greater deposit.

  1. Rent Prepayments

Most landlords will expect you to pay the first month’s rent and security deposit when you sign the lease, but some may also require the final month’s rent. It’s the last month’s rent being paid in advance.

This is a common request from landlords, as some renters may not pay the final month’s rent before moving out, and the security deposit often isn’t enough to cover the remaining rent and any repairs that need to be made. Landlords in some areas, including Massachusetts, are obligated to regard a prorated last month’s rent as a security deposit and return any accrued interest when a tenant vacates. For information on how this payment is to be handled, please consult your local legislation.

Your total payment at lease signing will be three months’ rent if the landlord demands (and your state law permits) that you pay both the first and final month’s rent in addition to a security deposit. You should talk to your landlord about working anything out if this would cause you financial difficulty.

Some landlords may have adopted this policy after suffering losses because of tenants who were untrustworthy. Your new landlord may be willing to forego this condition if you can demonstrate that you have a strong credit history and positive references from prior renters.

  1. In lieu of security deposits, move-in fees are charged.

The practice of requiring tenants to pay a security deposit has been abandoned in various cities. A “move-in fee,” normally between $200 and $300, is charged instead and is non-refundable.

Since they won’t have to comply with rules requiring them to retain your deposit in an escrow account and won’t have to pay you interest, some landlords and property managers choose to collect move-in fees instead of security deposits. A non-refundable move-in fee may be illegal in your area.

  1. Fees and Special Deposits

Landlords in such states can collect larger security deposits from tenants who offer a higher risk of damaging the property, or who require more time and money to move in. For instance, pet owners may be required to pay an annual fee or make a refundable deposit in case their dogs cause any damage to the rental property. Be cautious to clarify the return policy before committing to pay any such deposit or charge.

Some landlords will also need a larger security deposit if you plan to have an aquarium or a water bed in your apartment for fear that either one would leak and demand costly repairs. 

Further, it is common practice for landlords to demand a non-refundable application fee, cleaning charge, and sometimes even a credit check or background check cost as part of the tenant screening process. Get a receipt from your landlord detailing every single penny you spent.

  1. Keeping Your Deposit Safe

Care for the rental property as if it were your own and document any pre-existing damage to help keep your security deposit intact. If you want your entire security deposit refunded, follow these guidelines.

  • Performing Pre-Move-In Checks. Get your landlord or property manager to accompany you on an inspection before you move in. If you are unable to convince your landlord or building management to do this, you may want to have a friend have a look for you. Get physical copies of your images of the damage. They need to be signed and dated by both you and the other party. In addition, make an inventory of the apartment’s condition and have the landlord sign and date it, or submit it to the landlord with a request for a return receipt through certified mail.

    By providing evidence that the damage was present when you moved in, you can contest any deductions made by your landlord at the conclusion of the lease. Under no circumstances may a landlord remove the cost of repairing “normal wear and tear” from your security deposit. Learn how your state defines deductible damage against the effects of regular wear and tear and upkeep by looking into its legislation.
  • Service for Apartments. Your parents would tell you that it is far simpler to keep your house in good condition than to clean and perform repairs after months or years of neglect. Do some quick housekeeping every day by sweeping the floors and dusting the furnishings for 15 minutes. You should spend an hour each week deep cleaning your home. You should notify your landlord, property management, or building engineer as soon as you discover a broken appliance, clogged drain, or water damage to your ceiling. If your landlord or property manager is unresponsive, you need proof that you made an honest effort to maintain the property, so make sure to keep a record of who you contacted and when.

    Also, take care not to tear up the carpet, stain the walls, break the appliances, chip the tiles, or scrape the worktops, since this will leave a permanent mark on the flat. Damage of this nature cannot be undone, so expect significant deductions from your security deposit. Taking good care of the place you’re renting will not only help you get your security deposit back in full, but will also create a good impression on your landlord, who might come in handy as a reference in the future.
  • Expert Tidying Up. Hiring a professional cleaning agency to undertake a “move-out” cleaning might increase the likelihood of obtaining your whole security deposit returned. This may cost you some money, but a squeaky-clean apartment is likely to impress your landlord, who will probably be grateful that you took such good care of the place, and may be more inclined to return your entire deposit.
  • Examining Prior to Moving Out. You may be able to seek a pre-move-out examination in states like California. A couple of weeks before your move-out date, you and your landlord or property manager must do a walkthrough of the rental property. To avoid having your security deposit withheld in error, your landlord or property manager should alert you to potential deductions during this inspection.
  • Never be late with a rent payment. To avoid having your security deposit utilized to cover late or unpaid rent payments, you should always pay the full amount of your rent by the due date.
  • Notify your landlord in writing that you will be leaving. In addition to inspections and maintenance, it’s critical that you give your landlord a 30-day written notice that includes the date when you will be vacating your home. In the written notice, make sure to clearly state when you will be returning the keys to the apartment to the landlord.

A security deposit may be applied to your final month’s rent. See if this is permitted by reading your lease or talking to your landlord. Please inform your landlord in writing if you intend to utilize your security deposit to cover your final month’s rent.

  1. Returning Your Deposit

In most cases, the landlord has two to eight weeks after you move out to return your security deposit. Take certain that your landlord has your correct mailing address for the security deposit check, and double-check any deductions they make. There are a few important details to remember when requesting your security deposit back:

  • Updated Address Notification. If you want your security deposit refunded, you need to let your landlord know where you’re living currently. After moving out, you may only have a short window of time to inform your landlord of your new location in several states. There is a risk of losing your security deposit if you fail to update your landlord on your whereabouts within that time range. Sending your old landlord a letter via registered mail is your best chance for notifying them of your move.
  • Rented Spaces with New Owners. Tenant security deposits are often transferred to the new landlord or refunded to tenants when a landlord sells or loses a building to foreclosure. Don’t believe a new landlord who says he or she doesn’t have your security deposit to return it.
  • Detailed Checklists. Your landlord is required to give you an itemized list of any deductions made from your security deposit by law in most jurisdictions. Examine the deductions with the records you kept during the move in and, if relevant, the move out. Get in touch with your former landlord if you believe any deductions were done in mistake.
  1. Going to Court

You may be entitled to sue your landlord in small claims court if he fails to restore your security deposit or if he makes illegal deductions from it. You may be eligible to sue your landlord in your jurisdiction for the whole value of your security deposit, plus two times that amount, plus any relevant court expenses, legal fees, and any other damages you may have suffered.

A trip to court may be unpleasant, but it might be your only option for recovering lost funds. If you need help launching a case against your former landlord, contact your local Legal Aid Society or tenant’s union.

Bottom Line

You are entitled to keep your security deposit. When you buy a house or move into a new rental, understanding your rights and obligations will help you keep it safe and recoup any losses. Having that much more money on hand helps ease the financial burden of a recent relocation.

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