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A Landlord’s Guide To Massachusetts Tenant Screening [2023]

In May of 2023, the average rent price of a one-bedroom apartment in Massachusetts is $2,500. Both Boston and Providence made a recent list of the most costly rent prices nationwide. 

As a landlord, you want the premium rate for rent payments. You also want to consider potential tenants and know they can afford the rental rate and will pay it on time. 

Massachusetts tenant screening becomes critical in screening potential tenants to ensure you rent to the best candidate for your property. 

Massachusetts does have some tenant-friendly rules for tenant screening. As a property owner or landlord, knowing the rules for tenant background checks in Massachusetts is critical. Then you’re following the rules and getting the best renters. 

Read on to learn more about Massachusetts tenant screening and how it can help your rental process. 

Renting in Massachusetts

Potential tenants across the country are protected by laws ensuring they’re treated fairly. The rules often relate to how landlords must handle certain situations.

For example, can a landlord charge for an application, or how long must a landlord wait to start the eviction process if your rent is late?

Laws vary significantly by state. Massachusetts is well known for its friendly status towards tenants. The laws are very tenant friendly compared to other states across the US. 

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 186 contain the laws covering tenant rules and regulations. Massachusetts law says that even if a written agreement, money is exchanged, or even an oral agreement about renting, the tenant is protected under these laws. 

For this reason, tenant screening for landlords and property owners becomes even more significant. Massachusetts also has some rules related to tenant screening options. 

Massachusetts Tenant Screening Laws 

Most landlords recognize the importance of tenant screening. You want to know those whom you’re entering into a lease agreement with will be good tenants, follow the lease, and pay their rent on time.

Most landlords want to check for things like:

  • Credit history
  • Rental history
  • Employment history
  • Criminal background

The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs & Business Regulation encourages landlords to seek a credit report on any potential tenants. This gives the landlord good insight into whether the tenant pays their bills on time and acts financially responsibly. 

The law in Massachusetts also allows landlords to check for social security fraud, like did the tenant give a fraudulent social security number. The landlord can also search records for a previous eviction history. 

Massachusetts law allows landlords to decline rental to a potential tenant for a criminal record, evictions, or history of not paying bills on time.

Tenant Screening Services in Massachusetts

Many landlords opt to do in-depth screening for potential tenants as part of their rental plans. The problem for many, though, is they don’t have the resources or database access to do an adequate screening. 

It’s for this reason that they consider tenant screening options. This means instead of performing their screening; they outsource the services. 

When hiring tenant screening services, it’s essential to ensure the company can perform all the screening you want and need. 

If there’s one thing they don’t check, it could mean you end up with a bad tenant. You also want to verify their reliability. What proof can they provide on the processes they use for screening?

Other Massachusetts Rental Rules

As previously mentioned, Massachusetts is a friendly state for renters. Renter’s rights are carefully protected under Massachusetts law.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some safeguards in place to protect your Massachusetts rental process. 

Let’s take a closer look at some of the general rules regarding tenant screening and renting. 

Application Fees

If a landlord operates out of multiple states, they must understand the laws are different in Massachusetts. For example, most states allow landlords to charge an application fee to prospective tenants. 

Some states restrict the amount; others have no restrictions. In Massachusetts, landlords cannot charge potential tenants any fee for applying for a rental unit. 

The only fees allowed under Massachusetts law are for:

  • First and last month’s rent
  • Security deposit
  • Lost key fee

Landlords cannot charge fees for anything beyond these specific charges, including application fees, pet fees, or move-in fees.

Background Checks in Massachusetts

Most states will allow you to run a series of background checks for potential tenants. This might include eviction records, bankruptcy, or criminal background checks. 

Massachusetts is different because it doesn’t allow anyone running background checks to get instantaneous access to state records. This means the checks are more laborious and require more time. 

Be sure when contracting with a background check service they don’t only rely on the instant checks because they won’t give any information in Massachusetts. 

It’s worth noting again that you can eliminate a rental applicant in Massachusetts because of criminal history.

Tenant Security Deposits

Massachusetts does allow landlords to collect a security deposit. They do have strict laws about how the landlord must handle the security deposit. 

The funds must be kept in separate interest-bearing accounts from the landlords’ other finances. The landlord must notify the tenant about the security deposit, including the name and location of the bank, along with the amount of the deposit and account number.

If the tenant remains beyond one year, they have a right to the interest earned by their security deposit. 

Late Rent Payments

Most landlords include information about the consequences of paying rent late. Some leases allow a small grace period for rent payments.  

In some states, the landlord can file a Notice to Quit even if the rent payment is only a few days late. 

In Massachusetts, the landlord must wait at least 14 days before doing that filing.  

Understanding the Rules for Massachusetts Tenant Screening

Renting in Massachusetts is a costly and time-consuming process. Even if the landlord doesn’t charge an application fee, they’ll still probably do the background screening.

Landlords often seek Massachusetts tenant screening services to help in that process. If you want to learn about these services, contact us to learn more.