From brownstones to high rises to single-family homes, there are many rental housing options in Boston. Learn about what you can — and should — expect from the process.
Renting in Boston
Leases and agreements
Property owners may request references and proof of income to screen tenants. Once everything checks out, property owners will offer you either a lease or tenancy-at-will agreement. A tenancy-at-will offers more flexibility, but a lease offers more security.
Leases, which typically run for one year, are binding legal contracts. Leases offer security for tenants. Read any agreement before signing it, and keep a copy for your records. If you have roommates and one moves out, you may still be responsible for paying their portion of the rent until you find a new one.
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.
Before entering into a rental agreement, check out the condition of the rental unit in person. If you cannot, send someone you trust in your place.
Deposits and fees
Property owners will ask for deposits and fees before you move in. Your landlord must — among other things — give you proper receipts and pay interest on an annual basis. If they charge a security deposit, they need to put the money in a separate Massachusetts bank account.
AT THE START OF TENANCY, LANDLORDS can CHARGE:
- the first month’s rent
- the last month’s rent
- a security deposit equal to one month’s rent, and
- a fee to buy and install new locks.
If you use a real estate agent, there may be a fee separate from the payments made to the landlord. Real estate agents have to give you a written notice that states how much the fee will cost. The notice must also tell you how to pay the fee, and if the fee only applies if you enter into an agreement. You both have to sign off on the notice, and the real estate agent has to keep it on file for three years.
LANDLORDS CANnot CHARGE:
- a fee to hold the apartment
- an application fee
- a credit check fee, or
- a finder’s fee for renting the apartment, unless the property owner is a real estate agent.
Renters insurance is a good idea, and can be surprisingly affordable.
Everything from computers to jewelry is typically covered in the event of a fire or theft.
Condition of rental unit
Tenants are entitled to safe and sanitary housing. Landlords must comply with the Mass. State Sanitary Code, as well as the Zoning and Building Code. Tenants should report violations to their landlord in writing. If landlords do not make the repairs, contact Inspectional Services.
MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS include:
- functioning carbon monoxide and smoke detectors
- heat, water, adequate exits, and toilets
- being free of defects that could harm renters
- being free of pest infestations
- being free of garbage and other waste, and
- having contact information for the property owner visible.
Be considerate of your neighbors.
Having loud parties late at night or cranking up the music may lead to complaints and eventually to eviction.
Get information and help
The Office of Housing Stability helps property owners and tenants with housing issues. If you have questions, call 617-635-4200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We can help with any of the common issues below and more. You can also report non-emergencies to BOS:311.
Fires, floods, or natural disasters: By law, the property owner’s insurance has to cover up to $750 per household for costs or damages to a tenant affected by a fire. If your apartment is unlivable, a property owner cannot charge you rent. The City can help you find temporary housing in emergency situations.
Condemnation: The City may condemn a residential unit or building if it does not meet the housing codes. An inspector will let tenants know that they need to leave if the property owner cannot be found.
Condo conversions: A Boston ordinance gives some protections to tenants in rental buildings in Boston with four or more units that are being converted to condominiums. Some buildings are exempt, like federal buildings and college dorms. Property owners must follow eviction procedures.
Eviction: If your landlord wants to evict you, they must end your tenancy with the proper written notice, and file a summary process action in court. Ultimately, only a judge can evict you.
Our office tackles questions like those below. We can offer guidance based on your specific situation.
- Where can I find affordable housing, or housing that will accept a voucher?
- Can my landlord increase my rent unexpectedly?
- My landlord has not returned my security deposit. How can I get it back?
- My tenant is not paying their rent. What can I do?
- My landlord keeps coming to show the unit. What sort of notice do they need to give?
Property Owner resources
Timely Rent Payment
You are entitled to the rent on the day specified by the terms of the tenancy. You may charge a late fee only if there is a written agreement in place that allows it. This fee cannot be charged unless the rent is at least 30 days late.
At the beginning of the tenancy, you may 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.
Lead Paint REMOVAL
We help eligible property owners cover the costs of lead paint removal. Property owners are legally responsible if a child is poisoned by lead hazards where they live. Learn more about the Massachusetts Lead Law.
Rental Property Registration
If you own a rental property, you must register it with the City each year. All rental properties must meet the housing code in Boston.