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Top Ten Things Tenants and Landlords Need to Know

If you are planning on leasing an apartment in Boston, or becoming a landlord for the first time, this guide can give you an overview of what to expect. 

Top Ten Things Tenants Need to Know

A lease typically runs for one year and is a binding legal contract. Leases offer you security. Be sure to read any agreement before signing it, and keep a copy for your records. If you have a roommate who moves out, you may still be responsible for paying their portion of the rent until you find a new roommate.

A verbal or written tenancy-at-will agreement will run from month-to-month. A tenancy-at-will agreement offers more flexibility, but less security, than a lease. A tenancy-at-will agreement gives you the opportunity to move out after giving the landlord a proper 30-day written notice. It also allows the landlord to ask you to leave or to increase your rent with a proper 30-day written notice.

Always view the apartment and building before you sign a lease. Make sure it’s not a scam listing and look to see if the unit and building are in good repair with appropriate safety features, facilities, and appliances.

Make sure all complaints or requests to your landlord are in writing. If you and your landlord have a dispute that you are not able to resolve, you should consider mediation. Mediation is an informal process in which you try to reach a resolution with the help of an impartial mediator. If you need mediation, please contact The Office of Housing Stability. You also have an option to file a consumer complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.

Your landlord can enter your unit to inspect, make repairs, and show the unit to prospective tenants. Unless there is an emergency, the landlord and the landlord’s agents should never enter your apartment without advance notice and your permission. The landlord should provide at least one day’s notice and attempt to arrange a convenient time to access the unit.

A tenant can only be required to pay for utilities if there are separate meters for each service charged. Your landlord must pay for heat and hot water unless you have signed a written agreement that says you must pay.

If your rent is increased, you have to make up the difference in the security deposit and last month’s rent. Your landlord should return your security deposit, plus interest, within 30 days after you move out, and must give an itemized receipt if they want to deduct money. They should not deduct for reasonable wear and tear.

You can legally be charged first and last month’s rent, security deposit, lock fee, and a portion of an inspection fee. IT IS ILLEGAL For your landlord to charge you a holding fee, pet fee, or a broker’s/finder’s fee. Only licensed realtors may charge you a broker’s/finder’s fee. If charged an illegal fee, please report this to the Attorney General’s Office.

It is best NOT to pay your rent in cash, but if you do, get a receipt. There is no “grace period” for payment of rent. You are required to pay rent on the date specified by the terms of the tenancy. You may be charged a late fee, but only if there is a written agreement in effect that allows it. Even then, this fee cannot be charged unless the rent is at least 30 days late. If you have to pay the rent late for personal reasons, don’t hide. Approach the landlord and try to work it out. If you are behind on rent, you may qualify for rental assistance from the City of Boston.

Leave the apartment clean and take pictures of the unit’s condition. Return all keys. Forward your mail. Notify utility companies. Schedule bulk item pick-up, if necessary.

Buy renter’s insurance. It’s a small price to pay if there’s a big problem.

Top Ten Things Landlords Need to Know

You can offer a tenant a lease, which typically runs for one year, or a verbal or written tenancy-at-will agreement, which runs from month to month. A tenancy-at-will agreement offers more flexibility, but a lease offers more security.

Every rental unit must have a working stove and oven, screens for each window below the fifth floor, and working locks on all windows and entry/exit doors. You are not required to provide refrigerators, blinds, shades or laundry facilities, but if you offer them, you must maintain them.

A tenant can only be required to pay for utilities if there are separate meters for each service charged. You must pay for heat and hot water unless you and your tenant have signed a written agreement that says the tenant must pay.

Insisting on references and proof of employment are ways of screening prospective tenants. You can require prospective tenants who cannot provide references or who do not appear to have a sufficient or steady source of income to have a co-signer.

At the beginning of the tenancy, you can legally require a tenant to pay the last month’s rent in advance and a security deposit in an amount no greater than the equivalent of one month’s rent. If you collect them, you must, among other things, give proper receipts, pay interest on an annual basis and in the case of the security deposit, put the money in a separate account in a bank located in Massachusetts. It is important that you comply with the strict requirements of the security deposit law.

You can legally charge a tenant for first and last month’s rent, security deposit, and lock fee. IT IS ILLEGAL for you to charge a holding fee, pet fee, or broker/finder’s fee. You may charge a broker/finder’s fee if you are a licensed realtor and have a signed agreement with the tenant.

In most cases, landlords are required by law to have their rental units inspected for compliance with the State Sanitary Code soon after they are re-rented to new occupants.

There is no “grace period” for payment of rent. You are entitled to the rent on the day specified by the terms of the tenancy. You may charge a late fee but only if there is a written agreement in effect that allows it. Even then, this fee cannot be charged unless the rent is at least 30 days late. If your tenant is behind on rent or struggling to pay rent, they may qualify for rental assistance from the City or State

If you and your tenant have a dispute that you cannot resolve between yourselves, you should consider mediation. Mediation is an informal process in which you and your tenant can try to reach a resolution with the help of an impartial mediator. If you need mediation, please contact The Office of Housing Stability.

If you have exhausted all other options and need to evict a tenant, you must terminate the tenancy with the proper written notice and then file a summary process action in court. The Housing Stability Notification Act requires landlords to deliver a Notice of Tenants’ Rights and Resources at the same time as the Notice to Quit or Notice of Non-renewal of a Lease. This Act also requires landlords to provide the Office of Housing Stability with copy of the Notice to Quit or Notice of Non-renewal of Lease, and a Certificate of Compliance/Service. Many landlords hire attorneys to assist them through what can be an expensive, lengthy, and complicated process. If you live in an owner occupied building and meet other criteria, you may qualify for free legal assistance from the Volunteer Lawyer Project. Please contact (617) 603-1700 or celhp@vlpnet.org.

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