Can Massachusetts Landlords Charge an Application Fee?

Application fees are one of those areas where inexperienced landlords follow common sense instead of the law, and pay penalties as a result.


The law for property owners and managers is clear. It states that prior to the beginning of a tenancy, no lessor may require payment for anything except first, last, security, and locks (MGL Ch 186 Section 15B).

Application fees, pet fees, cleaning fees, amenity fees, and all other charges are forbidden. But wait.

Largely because the realtors have a better lobby than we do, brokers can charge application fees (254 CMR 700).

This substantially muddies the waters, because the average renter doesn’t know the difference between a lessor and a broker. Renters ask everyone if they charge an application fee, as if it were okay for everyone to do so. Landlords are not brokers, so we cannot charge a fee.

What about when the tenant pays for their credit report?

Services like Cozy allow a tenant to log into a website, pay for their credit score, and have it sent to the landlord. Surely this is okay, because the landlord doesn’t collect the fee?

At a MassLandlords Springfield event, Attorney Stanley Komack of Record Title presented the results of his research into this matter. Prior to June 2017, there had not been case law in MA about Cozy or other services where the tenant was asked to pay an online service that sent credit information to the landlord.

However, in the opinion of Attorney Komack and five other attorneys on his local bench-bar, operating in the Western Division of the Housing Court, landlords would be putting themselves at risk if they require (rather than request) that a tenant use Cozy.

At time of writing, we were awaiting receipt of the results of a case where this matter was heard and decided against the landlord. Landlords should not require their applicants to pay a third party.

What about in the City of Boston?

As of September 2017, the City of Boston was providing misinformation that no one may charge an application fee. To the best our knowledge, no municipality has completed a home rule petition of the legislature to override state law in this regard. Brokers are still allowed to charge a fee in Boston. Landlords are still not allowed.

What If I’m my Own Broker?

We are not aware of case law that permits a landlord who is also a realtor to act as their own broker. The court would probably enforce the least favorable interpretation of the law, which is that a landlord-realtor is a landlord first and may not charge an application fee.

Massachusetts Rental Application Fees for Landlords and Brokers

By Peter Vickery, Esq., Legislative Affairs Counsel

Massachusetts landlord tenant law spells out the list of charges that landlords may ask tenants to pay at the start of a tenancy: first month’s rent, last month’s rent, security deposit, and lock-change fee. M.G.L. c. 186, §15B. That is all. Landlords are not allowed to request additional charges. What about an application fee?

Longview Place in Waltham, one of the properties triggering the class action suit.

Although it is not a state court ruling, landlords should take note of the federal district court decision in Perry v Equity Residential Management, LLC, a 2014 case about the legality of up-front application fees. The tenants alleged that the fee was unlawful. The judge found in favor of the tenants and awarded them treble damages and attorney’s fees.

Attorney Richard D. Vetstein’s Massachusetts Real Estate Law Blog describes the case clearly and discusses its implications for landlords: “Application fees are very much widespread, and I would counsel landlords and property managers to think twice about charging them under any circumstance.”

Licensed Brokers

But what about brokers, the people who help connect property owners with would-be renters? May brokers charge application fees? Yes, so long as they are licensed. The law provides that “no person shall engage in the business of finding dwelling accommodations for prospective tenants for a fee unless such person is a licensed broker or salesman.”

The licensing requirement is important. In 2007, the Superior Court allowed a class action to go forward against a management company that hired a broker whose license had expired. The tenants claimed it was illegal for the management company to charge them a fee for the services of an unlicensed broker (Woodruff v. Niles Co., Inc.). So landlords beware: If you employ the services of a broker, make sure that the license is up to date.

What if you, the landlord, are also a licensed broker? In a helpful overview of the subject, the Greater Boston Real Estate Board refers to the 1983 case of Samia v. McElaney in which the Housing Court held that a broker could charge a fee so long as it was “separate bona fide business operation” and not simply the landlord wearing a different hat.

As with the Perry v. Residential Equity case, Samia v. McElaney is not an appellate state court decision and not a binding precedent. But it likely influences the way judges think about (and rule on) disputes about broker’s fees. So landlords should take it into account in deciding whether to wear two hats: landlord and broker.

Broker Regulations

Like other licensed professionals, brokers have their own governing body called the board of registration. The board’s regulations set out certain detailed requirements, including the steps that a licensed broker must take when dealing with prospective tenants (254 C.M.R. 7).

In addition to holding a valid license, the broker has to tell the applicant in writing the amount of the broker’s fee, the time and manner of payment, and whether it is contingent on the owner and applicant actually entering into a lease or rental agreement. The applicant needs to sign the written notice. If the tenant refuses, the broker has to record the refusal on the notice. This has to happen “at the first personal meeting between the broker... and the prospective tenant.”


Licensed brokers can charge fees to prospective tenants so long as the brokers comply with the board of registration’s regulations. Can landlords who are also licensed brokers do so? Although there is no Massachusetts appellate decision that answers with a definitive “no,” prudent landlords might well prefer to err on the side of caution.


MGL Ch 186 Section 15B:
254 CMR 700:

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13 Responses to Can Massachusetts Landlords Charge an Application Fee?

  1. Kathleen Gunning says:

    What if the landlord or another individual collects the applications and fee, but has a realtor screen the applications and runs the credit checks. In this case, would it be acceptable for an application fee to be charged?

    • Doug Quattrochi says:

      I am not an attorney, but I believe the underlying links provide the answer: The law forbids owners from taking anything other than first, last, security, and locks. The regulation allows licensed brokers to take a fee under a specific process. The process you outlined — owner takes fee and hands it to realtor — doesn’t seem to be permitted in law or regulation. =/ We always advise caution, talk with an attorney in greater detail and you may get a better answer.

  2. Theresa F says:

    I am being asked by my potential new landlord to pay a broker fee because he is also a broker in Dorchester where his rental is located.

    It sounds from the above information that if a person is both a landlord and a broker that he would not be allowed by law to collect a broker fee.

    Can you please confirm this is the case. Thanks.

    • Doug Quattrochi says:

      Hi Theresa, Unfortunately, the article will have to stand on its own, we can’t give advice particular to your situation because we’re not attorneys!

  3. Abbie C says:

    “At time of writing, we were awaiting receipt of the results of a case where this matter was heard and decided against the landlord. Landlords should not require their applicants to pay a third party.”

    ^What was the name of this case mentioned by the author in the article?

  4. Matt says:

    You should make this post like into a definitive guide or something. I bet a lot of your new readers that come to this site would want to be able to find this post. It’s too good to keep secret!

  5. Michael Pace says:

    But nobody’s stopping you, Mr. Quattrochi, from interviewing a lawyer before publishing this article. Then we wouldn’t need to hire lawyers individually.

  6. Captain Obvious says:

    Did you even read the article? Maybe you should try doing that before you scroll straight to the comments and ask a question that’s been answered in the actual article.

    TL;DR: don’t ask others to do the work for you if you’re not going to offer payment.

  7. charles says:

    I live in a 2family. can my landlord charge a parking fee? mine does 50.00 a month. never paid for parking were I lived before.

  8. John D says:

    “At time of writing, we were awaiting receipt of the results of a case where this matter was heard and decided against the landlord. Landlords should not require their applicants to pay a third party.”

    What case? I’ve never heard of this! It’s as if property owners have no rights in this state anymore.

  9. Maria says:

    In MA, if landlords are unable to charge an application fee, then what is the best course of action for landlords to gain necessary background information when considering a prospective tenant? Paying application fees, out of pocket, appears to be a very costly item for landlords, thus limiting the quantity of potential tenants able to be considered for the apartment!

  10. Becky E Phaneuf says:

    With respect to landlard/tenant fees, the above reference suggests that “amenity fees” are not appropriate. I have experienced charges to use a laundry room where tenants pay to use rental washers and dryers. My grievances are not addressed by legislature…it seems that the cost of common use area (laundry room), cost of electric, water, and rental of machines is passed onto tenants inappropriately because there is no separate metering. I also see separate cost for parking at some properties.

    Another issue, is property owners managers using third party software programs to collect rents and tenent maintenance requests. I was just charged a convenience fee to pay my rent with my debit card/visa payment/ACH checking account. I thought this was not allowed in Massachusetts.

    Please advise.

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