Security Deposit Law in Massachusetts
The following is a brief overview of the security deposit law in Massachusetts. It is not meant to be comprehensive, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice. For more detailed information about the security deposit law and about how it may apply to your particular case, you should contact an attorney with experience in this area.
Massachusetts Security Deposit Law
Massachusetts General Laws c. 186 §15B provides very detailed requirements for the handling of security deposits by landlords. The basic idea is that a security deposit remains the property of the tenant until such time as the landlord has a legitimate basis for keeping the deposit (typically if the tenant causes damage to the unit beyond reasonable wear and tear). Therefore, a landlord must keep the tenant’s funds in an interest-bearing escrow account that is separate from the landlord’s own funds and thus beyond the reach of the landlord’s creditors – if the deposit is not the landlord’s money, it follows that the landlord may not use it to pay his or her own debts.
A landlord or his agent may not collect a security deposit in excess of one-month’s rent. Upon receipt, a landlord or his agent must give the tenant a receipt showing the amount of the security deposit, the name of the person receiving it, the date on which it was received, and a description of the rented premises. Within thirty days of receipt, the landlord must give the tenant another receipt indicating the name and location of the bank in which the deposit has been placed, the amount of the deposit, and the account number of the separate, interest-bearing account into which it was deposited. Upon receipt or within ten days of the commencement of the tenancy, whichever is later, the landlord must provide the tenant with a statement of the condition of the premises.
After a tenant has vacated the premises, the landlord has thirty days to return the security deposit in full or to provide the tenant with an itemized list of damages and a corresponding partial or zero refund of the deposit.
If a landlord fails to comply with any of the above provisions of the security deposit statute, the landlord could be liable for up to three times the amount of the original security deposit, extra interest payments on the amount of the deposit, or the immediate return of the deposit. In such situations, a landlord may also be liable for the tenant’s attorney’s fees in bringing a security deposit action against the landlord. Thus, if a tenant prevails in a security deposit action, they often incur no attorney’s fees since the landlord may be responsible for paying them.
It is important to note that the Massachusetts security deposit law is a strict liability law. This means that a landlord can be liable to his or her tenant for violating the law even if the landlord did not intend to, if the landlord was unaware of the law, or if the landlord believed that he or she was acting in good faith.