Tenants Without Leases
A lease is not required by Massachusetts law. Instead, you may have an oral agreement with a landlord. The best practice is to insist on a formalized lease, but if you find yourself in a situation where you do not have a lease, it doesn’t mean that you have no rights. Below is some important information for tenants who do not have leases.
Tenants at Will
Tenants at will live in an apartment without a lease, but with permissions of the landlord. This is also referred to as a “month-to-month tenancy” because the term of the agreement is typically one month. Landlords usually require tenants to pay rent once a month, in advance (for example, October rent would be due on October 1).
A tenancy at will can be created by a written agreement (such as a lease that does not specify a termination date or expressly states that it is month-to-month), orally, or by the actions of the landlord and tenant (such as the tenant paying rent and the landlord accepting payment).
In a tenancy at will situation, a contract has been formed between the tenant and the landlord. Both parties must agree on any essential terms, including the amount of rent to be paid, the term of the tenancy, and what items are included. These terms cannot be changed without the consent of both parties. Many landlords wrongly assume that the rent for a month-to-month arrangement can be increased simply by giving notice to the tenant of the increase. As with any contract, the tenant must agree to accept the change, either by express agreement (saying yes) or paying the increase without complaint.
As a tenant at will, you have certain rights. These rights include the right to “lawful and exclusive possession” of the unit. This means that your landlord cannot enter your apartment without permission. If a landlord enters without your permission, they are trespassing.
Unlike a lease, a tenancy at will can be terminated for any non-discriminatory reason. This is called a “no fault eviction.” The landlord must give advance notice of the termination. The amount of time necessary is determined by the frequency of the rental payment: if rent is paid every month, the landlord must give one month’s notice, if rent is paid every six months, the landlord must give six months’ notice.
The law says you are a tenant at will if:
- You have an oral agreement to rent.
- You have a written “tenancy at will” agreement that either says you have a month-to-month tenancy or does not specify when your tenancy ends. (Remember, if you have a written agreement that is for a fixed term or specifies the date your tenancy ends, you have a lease).
- Your written lease has ended or "expired," you have not signed a new lease, and your landlord continues to accept rent at the beginning of the month without objecting or writing on your rent check "for use and occupancy only."
- Your landlord sends you a valid notice to quit and then later decides to allow you to stay on without a new lease.
- You have a written lease that does not state the date on which your tenancy will end or the amount of the rent (in other words, your lease is not valid).
- You have lived in a rooming house for more than three consecutive months.
Tenants at Sufferance
Tenants at sufferance are tenants who remain in an apartment without permission from the landlord after the lease has expired or was terminated by the landlord. You are not considered a trespasser, however, because at one point your landlord agreed to your renting the apartment.
If you are a tenant at sufferance, a landlord can evict you without giving you any advance notice. This does not mean that a landlord can enter your apartment and physically remove you or your belongings from the premises. If you are a tenant at sufferance, a landlord must go to court and ask for permission to evict you.
Even though a landlord does not have to let a tenant at sufferance know that they are going to court, once they do so they must send you notice of the eviction hearing. The document that you will receive is called a “Summons and Complaint.” If you receive a summons, do not ignore it. Contact an attorney or seek legal aid as soon as possible.
If a tenant at sufferance makes an oral agreement with a landlord, or pays rent that is accepted by a landlord, they become a tenant at will. Information about tenants at will is located at the top of the page.
You are a tenant at sufferance if:
- Your written lease expires (it is not self-extending or you do not renew it for another term) and the landlord protests you staying.
- Your landlord sends you a valid notice to quit and terminates your tenancy for breaking your lease.
- Your landlord sends you a valid 14-day notice to quit for non-payment of rent.
- You were a tenant at will and you are now in your apartment or holding over after your landlord sent you a valid notice to quit.
- You are a subtenant and you are holding over after the original tenant's lease ended.
- You are in an apartment after your landlord has gotten an order from the court giving her permission to evict you.