This question comes up every summer, as leases are renegotiated for the upcoming year. Most leases in eastern Massachusetts turn over during the summer because the Boston metro area is highly influenced by the academic calendar.

If you have an annual lease, the landlord can increase the rent at the end of the annual lease. The amount of notice should be clearly stated on the lease.

If you are renting month to month, the landlord can increase the rent at the end of a month. The amount of notice should be clearly stated on the lease.

These terms are generally on the first page of your lease. If you don’t understand your lease, talk to an attorney. 

Are rent increases worse this year?

Yes, it is worse.

Landlords hesitated in raising their rents during 2020 and 2021, due to Covid-19. Rental demand went down during the pandemic lockdown period. Many students and college-affiliated employees decamped from the Boston area. Not all of them returned. This summer, demand is looking more like normal, so some landlords are making up for lost time.

Is there a limit on increases?

In Massachusetts, currently, there is no limit on what a landlord can charge for their rent. There is no limit on how much they can increase it. The only risk that a landlord takes when they increase the rent is that a tenant will move out and no one else will want to move in at the new price.

The alternative: Rent Control or Rent Stabilization

Were there a limit, it would be called “rent stabilization.” That is an ugly word among real estate lobbyists. Mentioning rent stabilization is often followed by general statements like “Rent control never works. If you don’t let landlords make profits, they won’t maintain their properties.” The real estate lobby worked hard to get rent control outlawed by ballot initiative. The badmouthing of rent control and rent stabilization continues.

When rent control was abolished in Massachusetts in 1995, there were sudden increases in rental prices. This increased the pool of people looking to buy to avoid the high rents. The end of rent control spurred a jump in property rehabs and resales. By September 1997, rents roughly doubled throughout the greater Boston area. Sale prices also jumped.

Rent stabilization does not have to lead to urban decay. New York City has about a million rent stabilized apartments. Those rents go up, but they go up at the rate of inflation, calculating the landlord’s operating costs. Rent stabilized tenants are protected from having their lease not renewed; there are few instances where they will lose their right to keep renting there, but they are few.

New York is phasing out rent control. It was an older system tied to specific units. It had a different calculation on how much the rent could increase. Units that were rent controlled become rent subsidized when the tenants leave. Since rent control was established by tenancy in the apartment in 1971, many of those original tenants are no longer living there. There are about 16,000 rent controlled apartments left.

Rent control regulations exist in five states, as well as Washington, D.C: New York, New Jersey, California, Oregon, and Maryland. Regulations are being proposed throughout the country would allow landlords to boost monthly rents by no more than 2% to 10%. Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, Washington, and Massachusetts.

Other measures to keep rents reasonable:

Incentives for landlords helping low income residents: 

All landlords are obligated to consider a Section 8 voucher amount as equal to the same amount paid by a tenant. They may not discriminate because the funds come from the program. However, as an added incentive, cities like Somerville are providing cash incentives to landlords when they accept their first Section 8 tenant. It’s called SomerVIP.

Boston gives incentives for landlords who will house people who were recently homeless.

Proposals to help moderate income tenants:

Salem is attempting to slow down condo conversion by creating incentives for landlords to sell their houses to their tenants instead of converting them to condos. This is not yet resolved, but it is an interesting solution to the loss of two and three-family housing.

Choosing a landlord:

Larger buildings or buildings owned by corporations are notoriously difficult to negotiate with. Large-scale landlords are watching their bottom lines. It is harder to get an exception from them, since their staff are responsible to fill the apartments at the rent that the company expects to get for it. If you are living in such a building, consider working towards organizing with a tenant’s union.

If you live in an owner-occupied house or one owned by someone who only owns a few properties, you are more likely to be able to negotiate an easing of rental increases. Human to human discussion is more likely to work with someone who is not making a living by landlording alone.