Can a Landlord Be Held Liable for a Tenant’s Criminal Activities in Massachusetts?

Posted by Marco Sandonato | Nov 12, 2019 | 0 Comments

Imagine this scenario: you found a new tenant to rent a condominium you own. They seemed like they would be a good fit and so you didn't run a background check or check their credit history. They have now moved in and just a month later, you get a phone call from one of the neighbors near the condominium, “Did you know the Boston Police Department was just at your place arresting your new tenant?”

Your first concern, after the safety of your tenants, is probably going to be for your property. Was it an uneventful arrest? Or was there a SWAT situation that caused any damage to your condominium? Was anyone hurt while on your property? After learning that it was an uneventful arrest and your property is intact and no one was hurt, your next thought might be, “Am I going to be held liable for my tenant's criminal activity?”

Landlord Liabilities

If you are a landlord in the greater Boston area, you probably are familiar with Massachusetts' landlord/tenant laws. These laws spell out the legal rights and responsibilities of both parties involved in a rental agreement as well as the different regulations Massachusetts cities have in place regarding rentals.

Under Massachusetts law, tenants have the right to a safe, habitable rental unit, and landlords have a right to receive rent on time and an expectation that the lease will be honored in the way it is written out. Landlords also have the duty of protecting the rental property's neighborhood from any criminal activity conducted by their tenants.

Massachusetts law requires landlords to evict tenants as soon as reasonably possible when they learn their tenant is conducting illegal drug activity from their property. In other words, if you find out your tenants are selling drugs out of your rental property and you do nothing about it, you could be held criminally liable for any activity that your tenant does to cause harm to someone.

Steps to Protect Yourself as a Landlord

First and foremost, you should properly screen every prospective tenant, no matter how nice or affable they seem. Make sure your lease explicitly states that no “unlawful criminal activity” is to take place within the rental unit, including possessing or selling illegal drugs. Keep an open line of communication between yourself and your tenant, and document everything.

It's also a good idea to keep in touch with the neighbors of the rental property because they will be your eyes on the ground when you are not there 24/7.

Finally, the moment you suspect any illegal activity, contact the police—do not try to resolve it yourself.

Sandonato Law Can Help

Even the most thorough screening may not uncover if your new tenant is a drug dealer. If you have had a tenant who was arrested while living in your rental property, you should contact Sandonato Law. We offer a free initial consultation, so you can explain your situation and learn how we can help. You will need the professional and experienced team at Sandonato Law to represent you and protect your business and reputation. Call us today at 617-481-2742 or fill out a contact form to get started.

About the Author

Marco Sandonato

Marco Sandonato a native of Massachusetts, focuses his practice on all aspects of Massachusetts landlord tenant law, business law, and real estate law.   Marco was admitted to the practice of law in Massachusetts in 2008. Marco received his Juris Doctor from New England School of Law while simul...


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