March 5, 2018 – In the coming weeks and months across Boston approximately 165,000 apartment leases are being explored and signed by prospective tenants. If you might be one of them, you’ll want to know your options, rights, and potential avenues to fight against unlawful practices.
Firstly you should know that you don’t always have to sign a lease. There’s such thing as “Tenancy-At-Will” which is a more informal written or verbal agreement. Unlike an actual lease, which designates a specific period of time for you to live in and pay for the unit (usually one year), either the landlord or the tenant can terminate an at-will agreement and leave at any time, provided that a 30 day written notice is given. This is sometimes referred to as a month-to-month living situation. With at-will agreements your landlord can increase your rent at any time, provided they give you 30 days’ notice.
While signing a lease offers more security, tenancy-at-will offers more flexibility, so consider all of your options before agreeing to anything. And regardless of which you go with you should insist on getting everything you can in writing so that you can keep a record of anything that could be useful, just in case issues arise later.
You should also take a tour of the apartment so you know exactly what condition it’s in. MassLegalHelp made this great checklist of things to look out for. Make sure you document any existing damages before you move in so that your landlord doesn’t try and charge you for anything that isn’t your fault. You can also call 617-635-5300 to request that Boston Inspectional Services takes a look if you have concerns.
If you do decide to move forward with a rental and it comes time to make payments you should know that the landlord can ONLY charge you for the following before you move in:
- First month’s rent,
- Last month’s rent,
- A Security Deposit of no more than 1 month’s rent, and
- The cost of purchasing and installing new locks.
Any other charges, save for a pre-agreed upon “finder’s fee” to a state licensed broker, are illegal.
Luckily, Massachusetts and Boston have a wide variety of resources to help out tenants, including this comprehensive rights booklet. You can also hire a private attorney to review a lease agreement by contacting the Boston Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral service by filling out this form or calling 617-742-0625 to be connected with an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer within minutes. We have a vast network of attorneys across the Greater Boston area eager to answer your questions and protect your rights.