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I am renting a dorm room on a campus in a university located in Massachusetts, United States. I notified my landlord (= the university's housing services) that I will move out on March 8 (i.e., in 30 days). The university's housing services told me that I have to pay my rent till the end of the month in which my 30-day notice falls, i.e. March 31.

Can they legally force me to pay for my rent till March 31?

http://www.mass.gov/ocabr/docs/tenantsrights.pdf (mirror) says:

Either the landlord or you may terminate this arrangement at any time by giving written notice of 30 days or one full rental period in advance, whichever is longer. No reason is required to terminate a Tenancy at Will.

I'm not sure what the "one full rental period in advance" means.


The question Gave 30 days notice of intent to vacate, roommate who subleases to me says I owe rent for each day the room is vacant is very similar but pertains to California (coincidently I also want to move out on the 8th of the month).

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MCL c 187 §17 is in part relevant, because that is the section on terminating tenancy at will. Here it is in relevant part:

For the purposes of this chapter, chapter one hundred and eleven and chapter two hundred and thirty-nine, occupancy of a dwelling unit within premises licensed as a rooming house or lodging house, except for fraternities, sororities and dormitories of educational institutions, for three consecutive months shall constitute a tenancy at will

Thus you are not a tenant at will: if you have counterevidence that shows that you are, you could mention that. Section 8 says

If land is held by lease of a person having an estate therein determinable on a life or on a contingency, and such estate determines before the end of a period for which rent is payable, or if an estate created by a written lease or an estate at will is determined before the end of such period by surrender, either express or by operation of law, by notice to quit for non-payment of rent, or by the death of any party, the landlord or his executor or administrator may recover in contract, a proportional part of such rent according to the portion of the last period for which such rent was accruing which had expired at such determination.

which means more or less "you owe the rest of the rent": but it does say that this is for a person who "has a lease". There does not seem to be any statutory definition of "lease". Presumably you agreed to something spelling out the amount, when due, what you can do etc. which would be your "lease". Since there is no statutory override, whatever the lease says, goes. One other source of law would be Landlord-Tenant Regulations (940 CMR 3.17), which however does not seem to add anything else.

Having gone through that, there is the distinct possibility that you have been granted a license to live in the unit, and you do not have a lease (you have a license), which is extremely clever of them. This version includes an Early Departure fee of one month's rent: of course, this document may not be applicable to you, but it is a possible document. Whether or not calling it a "license" allows them to skirt other aspects of MA Landlord-Tenant law would have to be determined in court.

  • Thanks for your great answer. I have never noticed I had a license to live and not a lease. (the license to live you pointed to is the one I signed) Very clever indeed! – Franck Dernoncourt Feb 5 '17 at 23:51
  • Even if in some places they clearly remind the difference, e.g. housing.mit.edu/graduatefamily/sublicense_center "Sublicense - MIT students who live in on-campus housing have been granted a license to live in their units—not a lease. For this reason, we use the term sublicense rather than the more common term sublet.", in other places they totally bury it, e.g. from one email I received from the same Sublicense Center, they said "Thank you for submitting your sublet advertisement for Room in 2-bedroom apartment at Sidney Pacific." – Franck Dernoncourt Feb 5 '17 at 23:54
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    I'm working on getting my head around the concept of a permanent license to use a pair of shoes. The potential is mind-boggling. – user6726 Feb 6 '17 at 1:19
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    Wouldn't a court look at that license and say "this is really a lease and you're trying to get around the law by calling it a license?" – Andy Feb 6 '17 at 3:06
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    Well, that is indeed to $64 question. It works for software. I will bone up on first-sale case law before going any further. – user6726 Feb 6 '17 at 3:21

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