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Am I under a new one-year lease, or am I a tenant-at-will?

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My husband and I are having an issue with my landlord. Here's the fact pattern we're dealing with, and I'd be enormously appreciative to anyone that can tell me where we stand legally (as I'm not 100% sure what our rights are). Note, we live in Massachusetts.

1. My husband and I signed a lease in September 2011 that had an expiration date of September 2012. The lease was for $2500.

2. In July 2012, our landlord notified us that he was raising the rent for the upcoming year. I told him we'd have to think about whether we were moving out. He posted our apartment online, and we caved. I texted him saying that "we'd like to stay on for another year." At September 2012, we started paying $2700 / month. However, no new lease was created or signed.

3. Fast forward to late November of 2012, thinking we were month-to-month because we didn't sign a new lease and were effective tenants at will, I told our landlord my husband and I intended to move out in the winter but could be flexible on dates given that neither of us had found a place. My landlord said that would be fine though was upset that we were leaving because we have been good tenants.

4. December 2012, we found a place that fit our needs perfectly and it was available February 1st. We locked it down. I email the landlord and told him that we would like to move out by February 1st. The landlord asks me to stay through March 31st. I tell him that this wasn't possible, but I would try to help him find a tenant for Feb 1, the date that we'll definitely be moving out.

5. Last week - our landlord shows our place to a couple of parties, but none take the bait. The landlord is listing the apartment online for a February move-in and has also raised the price of the apartment by $300 more than what we're paying now.

6. This week - to make sure we're crystal clear on what's going on, I email him giving our official notice in writing that we'll be moving out by February 1st and that we expect our security deposit after our departure.

He responds by saying the following:

"You are not tenants at will. In Massachusetts, the law says that if a lessee provides in writing their wish to extend, which your text from July did that states you and your husband would like to stay or another year. it is considered a new lease. I contacted my real estate attorney, but the email and text you sent in today's legal system is sufficient for written notification. This is all that is needed to extend a current lease."

The Landlord went on to tell me: "Also, given that our attorney believes that this is a breach of contract you would not be entitled to your security deposit, we would provide negative references as well as report it to the credit report."

My question is as follows:

Do we have a valid lease that expires, theoretically, in September 2013 or are we tenants-at-will given a) no document is in place the terms of the original lease had been altered because of the $200 rent increase and c) my husband - a co-signor on the initial lease - never signed or wrote anything about extending our original contract?

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The problem is that just because you entered into a written lease that you both presumably signed first time around doesn't mean you didn't bind yourself to live there for a year with that text and subsequently staying on, not giving termination notice, and paying the new rent. It wouldn't have even had to be in writing for the landlord to deem it enforceable (so I'm not sure why he's tiptoeing around with his latest email response, except if your last lease said something weird).

A landlord saying he's fine with you breaking that understanding/agreement doesn't mean that he can't consider you to have breached it. The landlord's *supposed* to make efforts to re-rent the place as soon as possible, which he's doing.

Your husband's free to argue he ain't a party to the agreement to a one-year tenancy, but that doesn't get you much.

I don't see whether your deposit is automatically forfeit if the landlord suffers no damages (to be determined), but perhaps your old lease speaks to that in some way.

While the rental market is getting tight, if you believe the $3,000 tag is outside fair market value, you're free to point out that you believe that's why he's getting no takers. I'd do some advertising of your own and documenting referral of similarly qualified folks to the landlord.

I'd feel free to consult with a local real estate attorney.

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I guess my question here is: Is a text message legally binding in Massachusetts. I don't believe it is, though it is elsewhere.

Also, the above is a little confusing, Fallen. Are you saying that, despite the fact that the original lease is expired, and despite the fact that there's no new signed lease in place, a single text message is enough to bind a tenant to a 12 month lease? Is there any legal support for that? That seems demonstrably incorrect.

LFA - I'd probably direct you to:

It seems to say that without an agreement in writing, you are essentially a tenant at will, and are free to give 30 days notice.

Hope that helps.

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