About the Fair Housing Commission
Who We Are & What We Do
Fair Housing Laws
Frequently Asked Questions
Who We Are & What We Do
The Fair Housing Commission was established by City ordinance in 1985. Its powers and duties include:
- Receiving complaints about possible fair housing violations and providing information and assistance, including referrals to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) and Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services.
- Undertaking activities to increase the understanding of tenants, homeowners, landlords, realtors and lenders of their rights and responsibilities under state and federal fair housing laws. These activities include developing educational materials and conducting training and community outreach.
- Undertaking activities that promote goodwill and minimize discrimination in housing, including sponsoring an annual fair housing poster contest in the elementary schools and conducting studies and research.
The Commission generally meets on the fourth Thursday of each month at the Central Library conference room, 79 Highland Avenue, but please call for exact date and time.
The Somerville Fair Housing Commission is composed of five City residents appointed by the mayor for three-year terms. Members must include a City or Housing Authority employee, a representative of a nonprofit community-based organization, a local realtor or lender, a low or moderate income tenant, and a person with substantial civil rights experience). If you are interested in joining the Commission, please call the City’s Housing Division at 617-625-6600 ext. 2577.
- Claudia DeAndrade
- Jose Filho
- Dennis Fischman
- Rona Fischman
Fair Housing Laws
Fair housing laws protect all of us from discrimination based on:
- National origin
- Sexual orientation
- Family status (e.g. have children)
- Source of income (e.g. Section 8)
For more information about your rights and responsibilities, call the Somerville Fair Housing Commission at 617-625-6600 x2500.
Frequently Asked Questions
My landlord is trying to raise my rent. Can they do this?
If you have a lease, the rent cannot be raised during this term unless there is a clause in the lease saying it is allowable. If you are a tenant-at-will, the landlord must give you at least 30 days notice before raising the rent.
How much notice do I have to give before moving out?
If you are a tenant-at-will, you must give at least 30 days notice. If you have a lease, you are bound to stay for the length of the lease unless you and your landlord can come to a mutual agreement.
What can my landlord use my security deposit for?
The only things your landlord can use your security deposit for is any unpaid rent at the end of your lease or the cost of damages beyond normal wear and tear. Normal wear and tear includes the need for repainting, broom cleaning and replacing worn flooring. In addition, you should not be charged for the costs of repairs for normal wear and tear in common areas either. Your landlord should give you a receipt of every repair paid for by your security deposit within 30 days of the end of your lease.
How long after moving out should I expect my security deposit back?
Upon moving out, your landlord should do an inspection of your unit. If there are any damages beyond normal wear and tear, he/she will get an estimate of the cost of repair. Within 30 days of the date you moved out or the last day of your lease, whichever is later, the landlord must send you a check for the full security deposit plus interest minus the cost of repairs, along with a receipt for any repairs. If they do not do so, you may sue them in Small Claims Court for up to three times the original security deposit. The Small Claims Advisory Service can also help you file your claim if you choose to do so. (http://hcs.harvard.edu/~scas/ or 617-497-5690). Contact the Housing Division at 617-625-6600 x2564 for more information.
How can I ensure I get my full security deposit back?
When you move in, walk through the unit with the landlord and make a note of any damages already in the unit. This document is called a "Statement of Condition". When you are preparing to move out, do another walk-through, comparing lists. If there are any damages, you can repair these yourself before moving out, or the landlord will be able to deduct the cost of repair from your security deposit. Clean the unit thoroughly; all rooms should be swept and vacuumed, trash taken out and all items removed.
My landlord wants access to my apartment. Is this allowed?
Yes, the landlord is allowed "reasonable access" to your apartment, which usually means that they must give you 24 hours notice to determine a convenient time for both parties. You must comply if they have a reason such as inspections, repairs, or showing the unit to prospective tenants or buyers. In addition, if there is an emergency, the landlord is allowed access.
I want to increase the rent on a unit. What do I need to do?
If your tenant has a lease and you do not have an escalator clause in it, you must wait until the end of the lease and then may raise the rent by giving 30 days notice or signing a new lease. If your tenant is a tenant-at-will, you must give them at least 30 days notice before raising the rent.
I have requested a security deposit from my tenants. What do I need to do with it?
For each tenant, you must open a separate interest-bearing account for the security deposit. Give a receipt and a written notice detailing the bank location and account number upon their moving in. Each year, you must provide the tenant with a notice of the amount of interest accrued and pay this interest in full to the tenant.
I have requested a last month's rent from my tenants. What do I need to do with it?
Unlike a security deposit, last month's rent does not need to be placed in a separate account. However, you will still need to pay your tenant interest on this amount each year, as you do for the security deposit, so it is suggested that you deposit it and keep track of it as well.
My tenant just moved out...now what?
Within 30 days, you must do the following:
- Get a cost estimate for any repairs necessary in the unit beyond reasonable wear and tear.
- Return their security deposit plus interest (see above). If the unit requires any repairs, provide the tenant with an itemized list and receipt for these repairs and deduct the amount from their security deposit.
- If you collected last month's rent, return the interest accumulated on it.
- If you fail to do these things, your tenant has the right to receive the full amount of their security deposit plus interest and you give up your right to deduct for damages. If you refuse to return the security deposit, your tenant can sue you in Small Claims Court for three times the original amount plus court costs.
What is considered reasonable wear and tear?
When a tenant moves out, the security deposit can be used to pay for damages beyond reasonable wear and tear. "Reasonable wear and tear" includes repainting, broom cleaning, and replacing worn flooring. Anything beyond these wear and tear damages can be charged to the tenant and deducted from their security deposit. The best way to ensure that any damages caused by the tenant can be charged to them is to do a thorough inspection of the unit prior to allowing them to move in and provide them with a copy of your assessment. Keep a copy for your records.