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Can I shorten my tenant's lease on my Massachusetts rental property?

South Yarmouth, MA |

I have had these tenants since 11/1/2011 and did re-sign a new lease with them this past November 2012 but the tenants have been consistently late up to 2 weeks with their rent and disregard the late fee I have stated in the lease, repeated phone calls and even a letter from me stating the problem.I would like to end their lease at the end of June 2013 if legally I can do so.

Attorney Answers 4


How you terminate the tenants' tenancy is governed by the express terms of the lease. If you are unsure how to do this, you shoudl bring your rental documents to a landlord/tenant attorney for review and advice. Regarding the facts you have stated, while you are entitled to the prompt payment of rent, in this market, I can't say you are bad off if your tenants are otherwise current but a little late on rent payments. But, you have a business decision to make. Sometimes sending a notice to quit for nonpayment as soon as your tenant is late sets the tone for the parties' expectations. But, you still may want to consult with an attorney in case your tenants have cause for delaying payment. Also, in Massachusetts a late payment fee is not permissible unless and until the rent is late 30 days. Mere late payment of rent does not trigger a late fee. Therefore, your tenants are justified in not paying one.

This "answer" is for information purposes only and is not intended as legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship.

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Todd Allen Davidson

Todd Allen Davidson


If the tenants are so bad, then why would you renew the lease and why would you wait to terminate the lease 6 months instead of at a later time?


If the lease you and your tenants signed in November 2012 is for a one-year term, you can not unilaterally shorten the term of the lease to June 2013. A lease is a contract, so once the two parties agree to the terms, one party can not change any of the terms without the other party's consent. You are not without options however. If the lease says the rent is due on the first day of the month and you do not receive it that day, you could send a 14 day notice to quit. The tenants do have a right to cure, but they will get the message that you are serious about the rent. I once heard this about sending a notice to quit the day after the rent is due: "If getting the rent on time is not important to you (the landlord), why should paying it on time be important to the tenant?" If they do not cure in a timely manner, you can bring an eviction action. Now, if the pattern of late payment continues, you may terminate the lease "for cause," which would be repeated late payment of rent. This requires a 30 day notice, (and there are other possible benefits of going this route that your lawyer can explain to you, see G.L.c. 239 s. 8A), but it is something to consider. You could also consider buying them out of the remainder of the lease. A note of caution - be careful with your late fee as stated in your lease. You can not impose a late fee on a residential tenant in MA until the rent is 30 days past due. To do otherwise is a violation of the MA landlord/tenant statutes and worse, a violation of 93A. Another suggestion for next time - consider using a written tenancy-at-will agreement with your tenants, which provides greater flexibility for the situation you find yourself in now.

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Not unilaterally.

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As soon as a tenant is late on his or her rent, you should send a notice to quit terminating their tenancy. Similarly, non-payment of rent or late-payment of rent is probably also considered a breach of your lease agreement. You might see if they will agree to go voluntarily, but a better course of action would be to send an appropriate notice to quit and then commence eviction proceedings. Best of luck.

Christopher Vaughn-Martel is a Massachusetts lawyer with the firm of Vaughn-Martel Law in Boston, Massachusetts. All answers are based on Massachusetts law and the limited facts presented by the questioner. All answers are provided to the general public for educational purposes only and no attorney-client relationship is formed by providing an answer to a question. To schedule a consultation with a lawyer, and obtain advice and review of your specific legal issue, please call us today at 617-357-4898 or visit us at

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