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Common Lease Terms

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed November 28, 2005
  1. What must every public housing lease include?
  2. What terms of a public housing lease are illegal?

What must every public housing lease include?

Every public housing lease must include the following basic information:1

  • Your name and the name of the housing authority.
  • The address, apartment number, and other identifying information about the apartment.
  • The names of the people who live in your apartment (this is commonly known as the family or "household composition," and includes all your family members and any approved live-in aide who is there to take care of a person with a disability).2
  • The length of the lease and when it can be renewed.
  • Who is responsible for paying utilities.
  • How much rent you are required to pay.
  • All charges in addition to rent.3
  • The housing authority’s obligations to you as a tenant.4
  • Your obligations as a tenant.5

What terms of a public housing lease are illegal?

For both state and federal public housing tenants, the law provides that if there is an illegal clause in your lease, the housing authority cannot force you to comply with it.6 For example, lease clauses that are considered illegal in Massachusetts for both state and federal leases are clauses that require you to do the following things:

  • Make repairs even if you didn't cause the damage. (A landlord is required to make repairs, except when the tenant has caused the damage.)
  • Pay for electricity or gas when the service and bills are in the housing. authority's name or when there is not a separate meter for your own utilities.
  • Pay all the rent due for the entire lease if you or the housing authority breaks your lease before your anniversary date.7

If you feel you will lose the apartment unless you sign a lease with an illegal clause in it, you can still sign the lease and move in. Except for the illegal parts, your lease will be valid.

Federal public housing

The following lease clauses are illegal if they are included in your federal lease:8

  • The housing authority can evict you without first giving you notice or without permission of the court.
  • The housing authority will automatically win any lawsuit it brings against you.
  • You will not sue the housing authority.
  • The housing authority can file a lawsuit against you without giving you notice first.
  • You give up (waive) your right to a jury trial if there is a lawsuit between you and the housing authority.
  • You will not file an appeal or try to stop a court judgment against you obtained by the housing authority.
  • You will pay the housing authority’s attorney fees and court costs any time it sues you, regardless of who wins the suit.
  • The housing authority can hold your belongings until you pay a debt to the housing authority, such as back rent.
  • The housing authority can hold or sell your belongings without notice to you or without permission of the court.

Note: Federal law also prohibits a housing authority from including "unreasonable" clauses in a public housing lease.9

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