This is a story about a Boston apartment renter, since I don’t have permission to use his name lets call him Jim. When Jim moved out of his Boston apartment rental in September 2022, he expected to lose a bit of his security deposit for routine repairs and damage from his dog created.
But he was shocked when his landlord claimed hardwood flooring in the living room needed to be completely replaced and the landlord planned to keep his entire $2,800.00 deposit. Jim felt sure his dog hadn’t done that level of damage.
Boston real estate brokers and lawyers say disputes over security deposits are becoming more common as an influx of college students rent out more Boston condos for rent and more tenants are moving out after long stays because of recent rent hikes. For some tenants, security deposits are key to affording the move into the next Boston apartment rental. Unable to obtain their security deposits can make it harder to find future housing. Such was the case with Jim.
When a tenant pays a security deposit, Massachusetts law bars landlords from keeping any part of the deposit for “wear resulting from ordinary use of the premises.” Tenants are required to “restore the premises to their initial condition except for reasonable wear and tear.” But the law doesn’t clearly define “reasonable wear and tear.”
To help fight those kinds of charge the Boston rea estate broker should provide a move-in checklist and complete it very diligently. Landlords collecting deposits must provide a checklist of the current state of the rental when a tenant moves in. Tenants should take careful notes and photos of any damage when they move in and keep a copy of that list.
When it’s time to move out, the landlord isn’t required to do a walk-through of the rental with the tenant, but a tenant can always ask for one. If the tenant wants to fix things as much as possible they can, but they should ask the landlord for specific things they can take care of.
Take photos and videos once the furniture is moved out, and include the day’s newspaper in the photo as extra proof of the date. Document the age of the appliances. (Check appliances for the brand, model and serial number. Handle all communications with the landlord via email or snail mail. And be sure to leave a forwarding address.
First and foremost, the landlord needs to place the deposit in a bank interest bearing escrow account. After a tenant has moved out, the landlord has 30 days to refund the deposit or send an itemized list of why they are withholding any part of the funds. Landlords who fail to provide explanation within that time frame owe the tenant the full deposit.
Tenants trying to get deposit funds back from their landlord can send a demand letter before trying mediation or small claims court.
If a Tenant and a landlord are in a dispute — whether about their deposit or something else — can try to seek a resolution in small claims court.
In this particular situation, it was agreed upon that I would play the mediator. Not a role I’m usually involved in, but given the situation I knew both parties, so I agreed to it. The result, their was some damage but because we had a renter move-in check list the tenant was able to get most of his security deposit back.