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5 Questions to Ask Before You Sign Your Next Hub Lease

It's Thunderdome out there in the Greater Boston rental market, a land of super-low vacancy rates and ever-escalating rents, compounded by an anemic development pace (yes, despite all of the apartments going up now). How do you begin to navigate it as a tenant?

Do I need a broker?
Not really, but it helps. As noted, Greater Boston is a warren of listings that are gone often as fast as they appear. Having a good broker can ensure you get your feet in the door to make offers on places before they—poof!—disappear from the market. Do this, though: Establish upfront whether you owe them commission for their services and how much—usually, commissions 'round here run up to 15 percent of a year's rent. And! Usually, you only pay when a broker, in fact, finds you an apartment you can rent.
What can I afford?
Oh, dear. Rents in Greater Boston are among the most expensive in the U.S. of A. Click here and here for recent rundowns of rents throughout the region's different neighborhoods. The general rule of thumb is: Your monthly rent should not exceed one-third of your gross monthly income.
What expenses will I owe upfront aside from a broker's fee (if I use a broker: see the first question)?
You'll most likely owe the first and last month's rent as well as a security deposit; you may also owe the installation fee for a new lock and key (establish this upfront—notice how much we use "upfront"?) And know this! Under Massachusetts law, the landlord must pay interest annually on both the security deposit and the last month's rent if you live in the apartment for at least a year. The law requires the landlord to hold the security deposit and last month's rent in a separate, interest-bearing account in a Massachusetts bank. Within 30 days of receiving your deposit and last month's rent, the landlord must give you a receipt identifying the bank's name and address, the account number and the amount of the deposit.
Oh, really? What else am I entitled to as a tenant in Massachusetts?
All sorts of things. Go to this Mass. website to learn more about your rights as a tenant. Also, here's a handy PDF from the commonwealth if you have a child under 6 living in your apartment: The landlord must delead the apartment, even if the little bundle of joy came after you signed your lease.
Golly, it all seems so daunting, renting in the Hub. Shouldn't I just buy?
The thought crosses every tenant's mind when he or she signs that check the first of every month. Here was a hypothetical re: the eternal debate over renting vs. buying by our numbers guru, Boston real estate agent David Bates. Also, we love this rent-vs.-buy calculator put out by The New York Times a few years back. Plug in your reality and see what happens.
· 67 and Counting: Mapping the Hub's Rental Development [Curbed Boston]
· Buy This Hub Condo and Get the Car for Free [Curbed Boston]
· Our Renters Week 2013 archive [Curbed Boston]