Lease Information & Moving In
Most landlords in Boston require a minimum lease period of one year. You should pay close attention to the terms and conditions for renewing a lease, subletting, and the ability to add roommates to the lease at a later time. Make sure you receive a copy of the lease that has been signed and dated by both the owner (the “lessor”) and you and your roommates (the “tenants” or “lessees”). This should happen within thirty days of you signing and returning it to the owner.
If any repairs or improvement are to be completed by the owner, make sure you get these promises (along with a date for completion) in writing. This can be added to the lease under the section “Additional Provisions” or in a letter attached to the lease.
As you read the lease, remember that it is a negotiable document. Try to remove or change clauses that put you at a disadvantage.
All tenants should sign the lease before moving in. If one of your roommates does not sign the lease, they are not legally bound to pay rent and are free to move out at any time.
You can download a sample lease by clicking here.
Rental Applications and Deposits
Once you locate a unit that you would like to rent, the rental agent or landlord may require a written rental application and deposit equal to one month’s rent. A rental application is merely a page of information about yourself (and your financial status), which the landlord uses to decide whether or not he/she wants to rent the unit to you. However, the landlord is prohibited from discriminating against you on the basis of race, sex, religion, ethnic origin, family status, or disability.
The rental application is an offer made by the tenant to rent the apartment. If the landlord approves the application, the tenant is legally bound to sign the lease. If the tenant backs out after the landlord accepts, the deposit will usually be forfeited.
You can download a sample rental application by clicking here.
Money paid to the landlord before you move in (also known as “prepayments”) are limited by law to first and last month’s rent, a security deposit, and a charge for changing the locks and making copies of the key. The amount of the security deposit cannot be greater than the first month’s rent. Additionally, many rental agents in Boston charge a “Finder’s Fee” equal to a full month’s rent. The fee is collected after the lease has been signed. Before you commit to signing a lease, you should contact several agents to compare fees.
Often times a landlord will require that a student’s parents co-sign the lease as a “guarantor.” This will bind your parents to your lease and they will be financially responsible for paying your rent in the event that you fail to pay. If your parents are required to co-sign the lease, you should encourage them to read the document as well.
Renewing/Ending Your Lease
If you want to renew your lease and stay in the apartment for another year, you should notify your landlord at least two months before the end of the lease. If you choose to move out after the full term of the lease and the apartment is damage-free, your landlord must return the full security deposit plus interest. The landlord has 30 days to return your security deposit. You are also entitled to collect interest on the last month’s rent if payment was required before you moved in.
Illegal Clauses in Leases
When a lease clause violates a law or denies a tenant a right provided by local law, the clause has no legal effect. Below are some examples of clauses that are illegal.
- "Tenant will pay all attorney and court fees" - The judge decides who pays the court costs. Tenants rarely have to pay their landlord's attorney fees.
- "Waiver of liability" - A lease cannot limit the landlord's financial responsibility if a tenant or guest is injured because of the landlord's negligence or failure to make repairs.
- "Waiver of warranty of habitability or duty to repair" - The court will not enforce a clause that requires the tenant to make repairs of housing code violations. It is the landlord's responsibility.
- "Tenant waives the right to a jury trial" -When faced with eviction, a tenant has the right to a trial by jury or judge. This right cannot be waived by a lease.