Finding an apartment and signing a lease

Looking for an apartment to rent? Know your rights before you sign a lease.

There are rules about rental agreements and things to look for when you are searching for your next  place to rent.  

Finder's fee

Only a licensed real estate broker or salesperson can charge a fee for helping to find you 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 you (M.G.L c. 112, § 87DDD-1/2).

Before signing a lease

  • Do not put money down unless you are sure you want the apartment. Although you may be legally entitled to the return of your money up until the landlord formally accepts you as a tenant, that money may be difficult to recover
  • Calculate the anticipated costs of utilities (i.e., heat, electricity) when determining which apartments you can afford
  • Know what is expected of you in terms of pre-payments or a finder's fee.
  • Check the apartment to ensure that it is in acceptable condition. Put all agreements for repairs in writing
  • Evaluate the proposed tenancy agreement and the response record of a non-resident superintendent to "after hours" emergencies
  • Talk with prospective neighbors about the competency and reputation of the landlord and/or management company
  • You may also try to meet the landlord of a small owner occupied building before you sign the agreement. This tends to foster a good and congenial relationship from the start.

Rental agreements

A landlord must include the following in your written rental agreement:

  • The names, addresses, and telephone numbers of the owners and other persons who are responsible for the care, maintenance, and repair of the property;
  • The name, address, and telephone number of the person authorized to receive notices of violations of law and to accept notice of a lawsuit on behalf of the owner;
  • The amount of the security deposit and disclosure of the rights under the Security Deposit Law.

If the landlord uses a lease that contains any provision that conflicts with the Security Deposit Law and attempts to enforce that provision or attempts to obtain from you or a prospective tenant a waiver of any provision of the Security Deposit Law, the landlord cannot keep your security deposit for any reason including making deductions for damages.

The landlord also must give you an executed copy of the rental agreement within 30 days of your signing it (940 CMR 3.17 (3)). You can verbally agree to the terms of your tenancy, but it is best to get all terms in writing.

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