Released From The Lease That Fleeces Us?
January 12, 2018 2:24 PM   Subscribe

Boston area tenant. Signed lease back in August of 2016 saying I had to give 90 days notice to move out WHEN AND IF i become a month-to-month tenant. Lease expired in August 2017. Forgot about this clause and gave notice that I was leaving a week ago via text message thinking that I would only be obligated to pay February rent (one full rental period which Internet says is all I'm obligated to pay as a month-to-month tenant). Landlord says I have to pay rent until April unless he finds a replacement tenant. Is he right?

I signed a lease that contained a clause which purports to change a condition a future a month-to month tenancy? Is this legally valid? How can one contract dictate the terms of an agreement which I have not yet entered into?

I really like the landlord and I don't want to ruffle his feathers. I think that he will come to his senses or find a replacement in the next week or two but I'm worried about being on the hook for rent up until April.

Do I have to keep paying utilities? Sounds like an odd arrangement---me paying rent on an empty unit. How do I know he doesn't still rent it out and charge me rent even though he already found tenants?

I plan on paying February rent and leaving the place in tip-top condition. When March comes around, I don't plan on paying rent anymore. Sorry, Mr. Nice Landlord. If there's a problem, I'll have him take me to court. I have seen how housing court works and MA tenants tend to do very well. I'm convinced (perhaps wrongly?) that he cannot enforce this clause in my lease. This plan is stressful and a little bit mean, so I'd prefer to come up with some way to avoid this. Ideas?

I know that you are not my lawyer. Thanks.

Perhaps it goes without saying that this question is particular to Boston area renters. Housing court in the Boston area is extremely friendly to tenants. Answers for other parts of the country really don't apply to me.
posted by shushufindi to Law & Government (11 answers total)
I think in Boston you're considered a tenant-at-will if your lease has expired and goes month-to-month without a defined end date. You need to give 30 days notice, but not 90.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 2:42 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]

Based on this document, it seems possible that the written agreement in your contract (the lease you signed) means that the 90-day notice requirement might be able to supersede the 30-day notice period for a tenancy-at-will (month-to-month). You might want to contact The Boston Tenant Coalition or check out this information on Massachusetts housing law (linked from their website).

Also, I'm not sure about Boston/Massachusetts, but in many states, texting is not sufficient written notice-- you have to send a physical letter to give notice. So you may not have technically even provided notice at this point.
posted by Kpele at 2:46 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]

I signed a lease that contained a clause which purports to change a condition a future a month-to month tenancy? Is this legally valid?

Why wouldn't it be ? The law sets a basic standard for month-to-month rentals when there is no contract, but you are free to agree to other terms as part of a rental contract. As near as I can tell, the tenancy-at-will agreement can allow for longer notification periods after the lease expires, as well as other stipulations.

Sounds like an odd arrangement---me paying rent on an empty unit.

If you don't understand the provisions of a contract, you should seek the advice of professionals before agreeing to it. The 90 day thing is unusual, but if not forbidden by law, it is in fact your contractual obligation.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:52 PM on January 12

Pogo--thanks for your response.

*I believe it may not be legally valid because leases in MA can only dictate _certain conditions_.

*I think that the 90 day obligation in the lease may not be enforceable because the lease is expired and I am now in a tenancy-at-will agreement by default. I never signed a tenancy-at-will agreement.
posted by shushufindi at 3:00 PM on January 12

Having gone through something similar before, your best bet is to call legal advice.

What's in your contract, what's legal, and what's enforced via the courts are three separate things; a housing court hotline or advice will be able to give you the best advice. Try calling The Office of Housing Stability or the other resources mentioned above.
posted by suedehead at 3:16 PM on January 12 [5 favorites]

In my state, state law absolutely supersedes any lease agreement. I think Mass is the same?

You're in luck! During business hours you can call the state's consumer hotline and ask them! If it is so, you can inform your landlord or just procede and let him figure it out. Also, you're correct he'll likely find a tenant right away.

Call the state and ask them! They will tell you right away what to do.
posted by jbenben at 3:19 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

The notice provision may have survived the expiry of the lease, especially if you did not receive a new lease in connection with going month-to-month. There is quite a good argument that both parties intended it to (otherwise, it would be completely meaningless, which courts disfavor in interpreting contracts).

MGL c. 186 sec. 12 establishes that a month is sufficient notice period (for either side) if the lease itself is month-to-month. sec. 15 prohibits agreements between landlord and tenant that "waive the notices required" in sec. 12, but says nothing about extending them. You'd need to consult the case law to see how courts have dealt with that. That process can have counterintuitive results, but superficially your case doesn't look great.

(If you are in fact paying rent for that period, the landlord can't rent the premises to someone else.)

I assume it's occurred to you that you are likely to lose your security deposit.
posted by praemunire at 3:20 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]

The number might be 617-727-8400. The website has changed since the last time I helped someone with this. Ask them for the correct dept if that's not the number. This will take you 5 min to clarify during business hours. Don't sweat it until then.
posted by jbenben at 3:24 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

I definitely thought that in Massachusetts you become a month-to-month tenant after the lease expires, but now that I think about it, I believe that was always laid our in my lease - like there is a line that says something like "after lease expires, tenant is month-to-month.". Reread your lease to see if that language is in there.
posted by Toddles at 5:00 PM on January 12

You could also try going to a City Life meeting to talk to a lawyer:

I also trust these folks:

There's always GBLS too...

Good Luck! Maybe he'll back off if you get lawyers involved.
posted by libraryrat at 5:43 PM on January 12

Your landlord most likely has to mitigate their damages,I.e., act to find a new renter promptly, rather than sit back and plan to collect it all from you. Hopefully he'll find someone soon.
posted by slidell at 7:43 PM on January 12

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