With the single biggest residential moving day in Greater Boston coming up on September 1, 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.
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.
“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.