Moving Day in Boston: What Are Tenants’ Rights?

Moving Day in Boston: What Are Tenants’ Rights?


Renters moving out of one place and signing a lease on a new one need to know their rights as tenants. One way to do that is to check out the newly updated book Legal Tactics: Private Housing, an easy-to-understand, comprehensive handbook on Massachusetts tenants’ rights for lay audiences.

The book focuses on private rental housing and answers questions on everything from security deposits and last month’s rent to rent and utilities, repairs, evictions, housing discrimination, lead poisoning, mobile homes, and tenants in foreclosed properties.

It is available for free online or you can purchase a hard copy online or by calling   Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education at 1-800-966-6253 .

Julia Devanthery

More than forty sample forms, letters, and checklists provide tenants and their advocates with the tools needed to prevent problems, gain protections, and communicate effectively with landlords, boards of health, and courts. A one-stop reference, this book also provides the legal information tenants need through footnotes, an expanded phone directory, and actual text of key laws.

“This book empowers unrepresented people and arms non-lawyer advocates as they take on powerful opponents and navigate a challenging legal system,” says Julia Devanthery, one of the lawyers at LSC who represents low income clients on housing issues.

Maureen McDonagh

“Until there is a civil right to counsel, tenants will have to represent themselves in landlord-tenant matters in Massachusetts,” adds Maureen McDonagh, who leads the Housing Clinic at LSC. The Harvard clinic is a community lawyering office in Jamaica Plain/Roxbury that focuses on representing low-income tenants who cannot afford counsel, including providing Attorney of the Day services in Boston Housing Court.  The Clinic has special expertise working on issues at the intersection of domestic violence and housing.

“Legal Tactics is essential reading for any tenant,” says McDonagh, “and especially for those fighting to stand up for their rights.”


Here’s just a few of the many types of questions renters may have that the book addresses, and links to find the answers online:

I’m moving into a new place and had planned to use my deposit from my old place to put down on my new place.  But my old landlord is being slow in giving me my deposit back – and she says that the apartment is in worse shape than when I moved in six years ago, so she plans to keep part of the deposit to cover the cost of repainting and cleaning?  Is this fair?  (Chapter 3)

I have a pet, and my landlord says he will rent the apartment to me, but he is asking that I put down a first and last month’s rent, security deposit equal to one month’s rent, plus a “pet fee.” Is that OK?  (Chapter 3)

Can my landlord evict me with no notice for non-payment of rent?  (Chapter 12)

Can my landlord evict me with no notice for any other reason?  (Chapter 12)

I really like the new place I’ve just found and can afford the rent.  But the neighborhood is gentrifying, and other apartments in the area are being converted to condos. If my landlord decides to convert my apartment into condos down the road, how much advance notice must he provide me?  (Chapter 17)

When can I sublet my own apartment to someone else?  What are my legal rights if, unbeknownst to me, I sublet an apartment that the original renter was not allowed to sublet and the landlord finds out?  (Chapter 11)

Edited by Annette R. Duke of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Boston,  authors of individual chapters include two members of the Legal Services Center at Harvard Law School, Julia E. Devanthery, and Maureen E. McDonagh, who have written chapters on evictions and security deposit law, including information on how victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or sexual harassment have the right to break their leases following these incidents.

Other authors includes lawyers from Greater Boston Legal Services; Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services; National Consumer Law Center;  the Community Legal Aid organizations in Springfield, Worcester, Pittsfield, and Lowell; Northeast Legal Aid; the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association; Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, and  law firms including Goldstein & Feuer, Moquin & Daley, and Gary Allen, Esq.



Job Announcement: LSC’s Veterans Legal Clinic Seeks to Hire an Estate Planning Clinical Fellow

The Legal Services Center (LSC) of Harvard Law School has a current opening for a Clinical Fellow.  The position in within the Estate Planning Project of the Veterans Legal Clinic.  The Estate Planning Project—through which Harvard Law students also receive hands-on training in lawyering skills—provides free legal representation to low-income disabled veterans on matters such as wills, powers of attorneys, healthcare proxies, living wills, trusts, special needs trusts, guardianships, conservatorships, and probate of estates.  The goal of the Project’s representation is to help each veteran attain the maximum degree of control over financial, health, and family decision making.  Many of the Project’s clients have multiple service-connected disabilities and/or face chronic or terminal illnesses.  The Clinical Fellow will oversee the Project’s docket, maintain community and pro bono partnerships, represent clients, and train and supervise law students who enroll in the Veterans Legal Clinic and who seek to develop skills in estate planning practice.  The position represents a unique opportunity to work in a dynamic public interest law office within Harvard Law School’s clinical program. Salary is commensurate with experience.  The position is for an initial one-year appointment.  The possibility of reappointment depends on performance, the availability of funding, and project requirements.

Minimum Requirements: Candidates must have earned a J.D. no more than three years ago, have at least one year of relevant experience, and be admitted to the Massachusetts bar or eligible for temporary admission pursuant to Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Rule 3:04.

To Apply:  Applications must be submitted via Harvard’s Human Resources website.  The posting and online application portal can be found here.

About the Veterans Legal Clinic:  Founded in 2012 at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, the Veterans Legal Clinic provides pro bono legal assistance to veterans and their families.  Our goal is to protect the legal rights of the veterans community through determined, passionate, and effective advocacy.  In addition to representing individual clients, the Clinic also pursues broader initiatives to improve the systems that serve the veterans community. To learn more about the Clinic, please visit here.

About the Legal Services Center:  Located at the crossroads of Jamaica Plain and Roxbury in the City of Boston, the Legal Services Center is a community-based clinical law program of Harvard Law School. Through five clinical offerings—Family Law/Domestic Violence Clinic, Predatory Lending/Consumer Protection Clinic, Housing Clinic, Veterans Legal Clinic, and Federal Tax Clinic—and numerous pro bono initiatives we provide essential legal services to low-income residents of Greater Boston and in some instances, where cases present important law reform opportunities, to clients outside our service area. Our longstanding mission is to educate law students for practice and professional service while simultaneously meeting the critical needs of the community. Since 1979, we have engaged in cutting-edge litigation and legal strategies to improve the lives of individual clients, to seek systemic change for the communities we serve, and to provide law students with a singular opportunity to develop fundamental lawyering skills within a public interest law setting. To these ends, we actively partner with a diverse array of organizations, including healthcare and social service providers and advocacy groups, and continually adapt our practice areas to meet the changing legal needs of our client communities. We encourage diversity, value unique voices, and pursue with passion our twin goals of teaching law students and advocating for clients. To learn more about LSC, please visit here.

Click here for a pdf of the job posting.