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My tenants moved out 45 days before the lease is up. They have paid the rent owed, minus the last month that they gave at the signing of the lease so that is current. I have two questions: 1. They turned in their keys (unasked by me - left them in my mailbox) and now expect their security deposit within 30 days of when they turned in their keys which is before the end of their lease. My understanding is the security deposit is due within 30 days after the lease is up and keys are returned - who is correct? And 2. They are obligated in the lease to also pay utilities. They now state that they will shut off the utilities one month early as they no longer live there. They are upset because 2 lights were left on - one inside and one outside as the rental is a house and I did not want it to look abandoned. If they shut off the utility before the end of the lease, what recourse do I have? Can I deduct it from the security deposit?

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Submitted Fri, 05/19/2017 - 11:38

The security deposit law states that the deposit is to be returned within 30 days of a few different situations. To determine whether they are right or you are right, you need to first determine whether you STRICTLY complied with the requirements of the law. IF you put the money in a massachusetts account separate from your own finances, gave the tenants a receipt within 30 days, and followed all the other provisions, you are not required to return it until 30 days of the end of the Tenancy. Since the tenancy is up at the end of the lease (not earlier when the tenants moved out) then you are not required to return it until 30 days after the end of the lease.

However, if you did not STRICTLY COMPLY with all provisions of the law, the tenants are allowed to demand it's immediate return. If you don't return it within 30 days of the demand to get it back, you are in violation of the law and can be sued for three times its amount, plus attorneys fees.

As a practical matter, once you have had a chance to inspect the premises, there is NO REASON to hold the deposit a day longer than you have to. You are required to pay them interest on the deposit for each month you have it, so returning it to them early will save you money.

Now for the utilities. I hope when you say that the lease requires them to "pay utilities" that you just mean heat and electric and not water (unless you have properly complied with the water law). If the tenant is required to pay for utilities, you have no right to use the utilities and they are free to stop their account. A tenant can ONLY be charged for utilities that are solely attributable to their unit and to areas under their sole control. If you've accepted the keys back, the area is no longer under their control and you cannot use their utilities. If they wanted to leave all the lights off they can do that. If you want the house to look lived in, you must set up your own account and pay for it. DO NOT DEDUCT THIS FROM THE SECURITY DEPOSIT. The Security deposit can only be used for certain things and this isn't one of them.

If you want more information or help reviewing your situation to understand your exact legal rights and responsibilities feel free to contact me at my office at 617-859-8966 or e-mail me at to set up a time or to conduct a free consultation or to discuss your case.

Atty. David Owens
Grolman LLP

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