Tenants at Will

Produced by Patty Whiting
Reviewed May 2017

If you do not have a lease, but you do have your landlord's permission to live in your apartment, you are a tenant at will. This is the most common kind of tenancy. It is also called a "month to month tenancy" because landlords usually require tenants to pay rent once a month, in advance.

As a tenant at will, you have the right to "lawful and exclusive possession" of the place you rent. This means your landlord can only come into your apartment with your permission. If she does not get your permission, she is trespassing.2 Many landlords think they can enter an apartment whenever they want because they own the property. Your landlord is allowed to enter your apartment only in certain situations. For more information about when a landlord can enter your apartment, see Chapter 8: Getting Repairs Made: Landlord's Right to Enter Your Home.

You are a tenant at will if:

  • You have an oral agreement to rent;3
  • You have a written agreement with your landlord that says you have a month to month tenancy or it does not say when your tenancy ends. If you have a written agreement for a fixed term or it gives the date your tenancy ends, it is a lease.
  • Your written lease has ended or "expired," you have not signed a new lease, and your landlord continues to accept rent at the beginning of the month without objecting or writing on your rent check "for use and occupancy only";
  • Your landlord sends you a valid notice to quit that says it terminates your tenancy and then later decides to allow you to stay on without a new lease;
  • You have a written agreement with your landlord that says that it’s a lease but does not state the date on which your tenancy ends or the amount of the rent -This is not a lease but rather a tenancy at will agreement.4 See Chapter 1: Before You Move In - Is My Lease Legal.
  • You have lived in a rooming house for more than three consecutive months. For more about your rights as a rooming house tenant see Chapter 15: Rooming Houses.
  • Your written lease is not subsidized under state or federal law and the landlord lost the building in foreclosure on or after November 29, 2007.5 Note: A Section 8 voucher is subsidized.


2 . Dickinson v. Goodspeed, 62 Mass. 119, 120-21 (1851).

3 . G.L. c. 183, §3. . "An estate or interest in land created without an instrument in writing signed by the grantor or by his attorney shall have the force and effect of an estate at will only. . . ."

4 . Murray v. Cherrington, 99 Mass. 229, 230-31 (1868); Berman v. Shaheen, 273 Mass. 343, 344 (1930); Marchesi v. Brabant, 338 Mass. 790, 790 (1959) (holding that a memorandum without date of commencement or termination of occupancy was not a lease.

5 . G.L. c. 186, §13. If the tenant has a written lease subsidized under state or federal law (for example, via a Section 8 voucher), a foreclosure does not affect the lease or the terms of the tenancy. G.L. c. 186, §13A; Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. v. Hobbs, Boston Housing Court, 95-SP-04475 (Winik, J., Dec. 18, 1995).

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

What Kind of Tenancy Do You Have Downloads

Ask a Law Librarian

If it's
9am - 12pm and 1pm - 4pm