When you’re looking for a new apartment, it seems like finding the right place is the hardest part. (RentHop can help!) But that’s only half the battle. You still need to apply for it, and once your application is accepted you need to negotiate and sign a lease.
The lease is a legal contract that gives you the exclusive right to inhabit the space identified in the contract for a specified period of time. It’s extremely important that you read and understand it.
As you read the lease, make sure to check key terms. Is the address listed for the apartment in the lease the right address? What are the start and end dates of the lease? Is the rent correct? Does the lease tell you how and when to pay your rent? Is there contact information for the landlord and for anyone else responsible for property management and receiving court papers and notices? Is the amount of your security deposit correct, and does the lease list all of your rights relating to it? Who pays for utilities, and which ones? You need to confirm all of those points, and ask any questions you may have, before you sign anything.
Beware if the landlord offers things to you verbally but won’t put them in writing. You’ll have a hard time enforcing them later. Similarly, if the landlord tells you he won’t enforce a provision in the lease, either get that in writing or ask that the provision be removed from the lease.
Also, ask for help if you have questions about the lease. The good folks at Mass Legal Help have put together a valuable list of resources relating to private housing. Also check out the Boston Rental Housing Center, operated by the City’s Department of Neighborhood Development, which has a number of very helpful resources and a hotline you can call to get answers.
There are certain provisions that you should take issue with if they appear in the lease. We’ve got a non-exhaustive list in the following slides – if you see these provisions in your lease, make sure you ask some questions! This post is not intended to constitute, and does not constitute, legal advice and may not be used as such.
Tenant takes the apartment “as-is”
Every landlord is required to make sure that the apartment and all common spaces related to the apartment are (1) fit for human habitation and (2) not subject to conditions which would be dangerous, hazardous or detrimental to the tenant’s life, health or safety.
If the apartment isn’t currently habitable, or is unsafe, your landlord is required – at his expense – to fix it up, no matter what the lease says. A landlord trying to get you to take an unsafe apartment may be trying to make you pay to fix his problem. Don’t do it. Next
Tenant is responsible for repairs
The landlord must ensure that the apartment is safe and habitable, and you can’t be made to pay for those repairs. Otherwise, if the landlord agrees to provide certain things in the lease (e.g., a dishwasher), then as a matter of contract law the landlord is responsible for ensuring that they work. You might agree to do certain repairs in return for compensation, but it’s the landlord’s job to provide the apartment she agreed to provide. Next
Late payment penalties before rent is 30 days overdue, or discounts for early payment
In Massachusetts landlords have no right to a late penalty until a tenant is 30 days late in paying the rent; any provision to the contrary is illegal. Same for a provision that offers a “discount” if you pay your rent before the 5th of the month. Next
Landlord may enter at any time for any reason
By law in Massachusetts the landlord can only enter your apartment on “reasonable notice” (24 hours’ notice is a good place to start), and only for specific reasons. Generally, landlords may only enter your apartment (1) to inspect it, (2) to make repairs or (3) to show it to a prospective purchaser, tenant or mortgagee. (The landlord can also enter under other specific circumstances – in accordance with a court order, if the apartment appears abandoned, or inspecting for damage in the last 30 days of the lease.) Next
Tenant will pay X in fees
In Massachusetts a landlord can charge you the first month’s rent, the last month’s rent, a security deposit up to one month’s rent, a lock fee (for replacing the prior tenant’s lock) and a portion of an inspection fee. A licensed realtor can legally charge you a broker’s fee; your landlord cannot, unless he or she is a licensed realtor. Landlords cannot charge a holding fee (for holding the apartment for a prospective tenant) or a pet fee. Next
Landlord will not be held liable for any damages
Again, the landlord can’t get out of his legal responsibilities. If the landlord acts negligently in failing to keep the apartment or building safe, the landlord should be liable if you get hurt or your property is damaged as a result. Next
Landlord may use your security deposit for...
Under Massachusetts law your security deposit may only be used for three purposes: unpaid rent at the end of the lease; fixing damage you caused; and payment of the tenant’s percentage of a property tax increase (assuming your lease has a provision that allows it). The landlord may not use your security deposit to pay for utilities if you don’t pay for them. Back to the beginning
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below