Ten Things To Know Before Signing a Lease

Photo by Rick Berk
It's that time of year again - Time to look for apartments! Here are the top ten things that students should know before signing a lease, adapted from the City of Boston's Rental Housing Resource Center:

10) Legal & Illegal Fees: When you move into an apartment, a landlord can charge you the first month’s rent, the last month’s rent, a security deposit, a lock/key change fee, and a portion of a re-inspection fee.  A landlord can’t charge you any other fees such as a holding fee or a pet fee.  A landlord also can’t charge you a broker’s/finder’s fee unless he/she is a licensed realtor.

9) Roommates: If one of your roommates moves out, you may still be responsible for paying his/her portion of the rent until you find a new roommate.

8) Leases & Tenancies-At-Will: If a landlord offers you a lease, read it carefully before signing it.  Leases, which typically run for one year, are binding legal contracts. Tenancies-At-Will, which are typically verbal contracts between you and the landlord, run from month to month, but offer you less security against rent increases and evictions.

7) Renter's Insurance: You have probably invested more in personal property than you realize. Computers, stereos, TVs, clothing, jewelry, and furniture would be expensive to replace in the event of fire or theft. Renter's insurance is a good idea and can be surprisingly affordable. Don’t assume that your landlord's or your parents' insurance will cover your belongings!

6) Re-Inspection of Rental Unit: In most cases, a landlord is required to arrange to have your apartment inspected for compliance with the State Sanitary Code soon after you move in. To check that this is being done, you can ask your landlord or call the city's Inspectional Services Department.

5) Code Violations: You are entitled to an apartment that is in compliance with local and state sanitary and building codes. Violations should be reported to your landlord in writing.  If he/she doesn’t make the necessary repairs, you may call the city’s Inspectional Services Department at 617-635-5322.

4) Condition of Apartment: Before entering into a rental agreement, inspect the condition of the apartment yourself. If you can’t, have a friend or someone you trust do it for you. You do not want to be charged for damages that existed prior to when you moved in.

3) Security Deposits & Last Month's Rent: Your landlord can legally require you to pay a security deposit and the last month's rent in amounts equivalent to one month’s rent for each. If your landlord collects them, he/she must give you proper receipts, pay interest on an annual basis, and in the case of the security deposit, put the money in a separate Massachusetts bank account.

2) Noise: Be considerate of your neighbors. Having loud parties late at night or turning up the volume on your stereo may lead to complaints and eventually to eviction.

1) Mediation: If you and your landlord have a dispute that you can’t resolve between yourselves, you should consider mediation. Mediation is an informal process in which you and your landlord can try to reach a resolution with the help of an impartial mediator. For information about the free mediation service offered by the City of Boston's Rental Housing Resource Center, call 617.635.RENT (7368).