Welcome to the second of nine blog posts aimed at helping renters (and landlords) in the Boston area understand the rights and obligations of tenants (sometimes referred to as renters or lessees). In this Handbook, I will approach issues that you may face in dealing with a rental in the city, or in the surrounding towns of Newton and Brookline.

The topics will be targeted as follows:

  1. Types of Tenancy
  2. Funds Required for Move-In
  3. Paying the Rent
  4. Tenants' Rights
  5. State Sanitary Code
  6. Tenants' Remedies
  7. Eviction Requirements
  8. Moving Out
  9. Finding an Apartment (I will cover this topic last as we have already passed September 1st)

Today, we will cover Funds Required for Move-In so that you understand what to expect financially when renting in Boston, Brookline, and Newton.

Broker’s Fee

I’ll admit it—Greater Boston is a bit of a bummer for renters when it comes to the broker’s fee. There are only a few places in the country where a renter ends up having to pay a fee—and this is one of them. It is not legally required that an agent get their fee from a prospective tenant, but with the strength of the market most landlord do not agree to pay the fee, so the service fee gets placed on the renter. Only a licensed real estate broker or salesperson can charge you a fee for the purpose of finding an apartment. The amount, due date, and the purpose of the fee must be disclosed to you prior to any transaction. There in no set amount to the fee, as it is a contractual arrangement between the licensed broker or salesperson and a renter. This is a fee for service, so once it is paid, that money is gone.

Before Applying for an Apartment

  • Read your broker’s fee disclosure carefully when you sign. Most fee disclosures state that a fee is owed to a broker once “tenancy is created”. If you submit an application and a deposit for an apartment, that application is binding once the landlord says “yes”. That exact point in time is difficult to pin down, so do not put money down or submit applications unless you are sure you want the apartment.
  • Calculate the anticipated costs of utilities (i.e., heat, electricity) when determining which apartments you can afford.

Funds Required for Move-In

Before you move in, the landlord can only collect the first and last month’s rent, one month’s security deposit, and the purchase and installation costs for a lock and key. They are not allowed to pass on move-in and move-out fees in a condominium to a tenant. Management companies and landlords are not permitted to charge application fees or have inquiring tenants pay for credit checks. They are also not allowed to charge a separate “pet fee”. In general, be prepared to pay 4x the rental amount to get moved in (first month’s rent, last month’s rent, security deposit, and broker’s fee).

  • Make sure you get a receipt for any and all funds paid to any other party in your rental transaction. The receipt must include the amount paid and the date the payment was made, and a description of what the payment was for. The receipt should also include the landlord’s name, the tenant’s name, and the name of the person to whom the payment was given.

Laws Governing the Security Deposit

All Security Deposits required must be deposited in a Massachusetts bank, in an in interest-bearing account within 30 days of tenancy. The lessor must provide the lessee with the name and address of the bank, along with the account number, wherein the funds are held. Each year, the landlord must either pay the tenant the interest on the security deposit, or allow the tenant to deduct that amount from a rental payment. The security deposit itself is held to cover the cost of any damages (beyond normal wear and tear) to the apartment during tenancy and cannot exceed one month’s rent.

  • If a security deposit is held, make sure you get an “Apartment Condition Statement” from your agent or landlord prior to or at move-in. Document any damages or defects present in the unit at move-in and return to the landlord within 15 days. This document is not a repair request; it serves as protection against unlawful use of your security deposit and helps ensure you are not held liable for damages to a unit that existed prior to your tenancy. Keep a copy for yourself. It is wise to send this via email to the landlord so you have documentation of their receipt of the form.
  • At the end of tenancy, the landlord must return the security deposit and any interest gained on it within 30 days. The landlord may keep the amount of money needed to repair any abnormal damages to the apartment. In this case, the landlord must give you a written description of the damages and the estimated cost of repairing them within 30 days of move-out. The landlord may also deduct any increase of property taxes from the security deposit if that condition is stipulated in the lease.

I hope that brings more clarity to the rental process and your rights as a tenant! As always, feel free to post comments or questions below.And come back next week for part 3 of my series!