If you are a tenant in Massachusetts, you can terminate your lease early if you or a member of your household are a victim of, or are in fear of immediate serious physical harm due to, domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking. Under certain circumstances, you can also ask that the landlord change the locks.
Who is protected by these housing laws?
A tenant or co-tenant can terminate the rental agreement or tenancy if s/he or a household member is a victim of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking.1 To read what needs to be done before leaving, so that the tenant or co-tenant can be covered by the protections of this law, see What protections do these laws offer?
1 M.G.L. 186 § 24(a)
What protections do these laws offer?
Massachusetts offers two main tenancy-related laws that protect victims of abuse and their household members:
- You have the right to terminate your rental agreement (lease) or tenancy by:
- giving written notice to the landlord within three months of the most recent incident of abuse that a member of the household was a victim of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking; or
- giving written notice to the landlord that a member of the household is reasonably in fear of immediate serious physical harm from domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking.1
- If you request it, the landlord/owner must change your locks if the tenant, co-tenant, or household member reasonably believes that s/he is under an immediate threat of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking. If the owner/landlord doesn’t change the locks within two business days of the request, you can get them changed yourself. Note: The owner can charge you a reasonable fee to change the locks.2
1 M.G.L. 186 § 24
2 M.G.L. 186 § 26
Breaking the lease
How do I prove the abuse to the landlord? Is the information kept confidential?
The owner/landlord has the right to request proof that you or one of your household members is a victim of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking. The owner can even ask for the name of the abuser/perpetrator.1 Any of the following documents can be given as proof:
- a copy of a valid protection order obtained by the tenant, co-tenant, or member of the household;
- a record from a federal, state, or local court or law enforcement of an act of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking, including the name of the abuser, if known; or
- a written verification from a qualified third party to whom the abuse was reported. This verification needs to include:
- the name of the service provider;
- the date of the abuse;
- the name of the perpetrator, if known; and
- your statement, under penalty of perjury, confirming that the incident described in the verification is true and correct. This statement is only required if you are an adult and have the capacity to do so.2
Note: When asking for the locks to be changed, if the abuser/perpetrator is also a tenant, co-tenant, or household member, you have to provide a copy of one of the first two options, above, indicating that the abuser poses an immediate (imminent) threat of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking.3
The documentation and information you provide is confidential and the landlord cannot share it with any person or agency. The only exceptions to this restriction are:
- if the victim provides written authorization; or
- if the information is required by a court order, government regulation, or governmental audit.4
1 M.G.L. 186 § 24(a)
2 M.G.L. 186 § 24(e)
3 M.G.L. 186 § 26(c)
4 M.G.L. 186 § 24(f)
How much time will I have for my move after I notify the landlord about the abuse and my intention to terminate the lease?
You and your other household members, except the abuser, will have three months to move after notifying the landlord about the abuse and your intent to terminate the lease. If you don’t move within those three months, the notice to terminate the lease is void.1
1 M.G.L. 186 § 24(b)
If I end my lease, what will happen with the other tenants or co-tenants on the lease?
If you have a roommate or a family member who is listed as a tenant on the lease, s/he will still be bound by the lease even if you are allowed to get out of it. However, if s/he is not on the lease and decides to stay on the property, it is up to the landlord whether to allow that person to remain in the rental unit or to take action to get the person removed from the unit.1
1 M.G.L. 186 § 24(d)
Will terminating a rental agreement affect my ability to rent another property?
A property owner cannot refuse to offer you a lease, and a housing subsidy provider cannot deny you rental assistance, based on the fact that you previously sought the housing protections of this law.1
1 M.G.L. 186 § 25