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5 things you should know before signing a lease

According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, which conducts research on housing issues, rentership rates for all age groups under 65 are at a historical high due to a combination of factors such as the affordability of houses available for sale as well as the financial and logistic implications that come with homeownership (you can read “America’s Rental Housing 2020” report here).

If you are one of the millions of renters in the U.S., you are familiar with the effort that goes into finding a place that combines as many items off your wishlist as possible: rent price, location, commute to work, spaciousness, in-unit laundry and so on. If you know you will be on the hunt for your next apartment soon, here are a few things you may want to consider before committing:

1 - Conduct due diligence before applying to rent an apartment or home

Research the area you are interested in to determine what the average rent price is as well as the typical condition of homes available for rent there. This will help you determine whether the price you are asked to pay is fair as well as whether you are getting good value for your money given the quality of the home and the amenities it offers.

Large apartment buildings, for instance, sometimes use dynamic pricing which means you may get quoted different prices at different times of the year or the week, depending on the fluctuations in demand. If you have school-aged children, it may also be important to look into the quality of the nearest public schools and to see whether you would be satisfied with your children receiving their education there.

2 - Once you apply for an apartment or house and receive the lease from your broker or landlord, read every single page very carefully before signing

If the lease is very detailed, make sure you go over the fine print and that you understand what everything means and that the terms laid out are acceptable to you. If there is anything that you feel should be amended, discuss it with the landlord and get the changes in writing. Do not rely on verbal communication as a guarantee that your requests will be honored if issues come up down the line since, legally, you are bound to the terms that you actually signed on for.

If, on the other hand, the lease is not detailed enough and you feel it should include provisions for certain situations, you should again discuss it with your landlord and reach a written agreement. For example, if the lease does not clarify who is responsible for snow removal or whether you are allowed to change the color of the walls, reach out to your future landlord to get clarification and to have this information incorporated into the rental agreement.

3 - Make sure you understand what fees you will be responsible for beyond the rent itself in order to calculate your total monthly financial commitment and to confirm it is within your budget

For example, are any utilities included in the rent and, if so, which ones? Does the landlord charge a fee for parking or pets? Does paying rent late incur a fee and, if so, is there a grace period before this fee is charged? Having a very clear idea of the cost of living in a new place and doing a reality check against your budget will save you from considerable stress and financial hardship so that you can focus on reaching the rest of your personal goals and enjoying your new place as much as possible.

4 - Make sure you know what the process of moving out will involve in order to avoid unpleasant surprises at the end of your lease’s term, if you choose not to renew

For example, if your landlord asks for a security deposit, walk the property with him before moving in and take photos to document the condition of your prospective home. Make notes of any and all issues, even if they appear minor (such as dirty air filters, a faulty door handle, or a carpet stain). This documentation will serve as proof that you were not responsible for causing pre-existing damage and therefore your landlord will not have grounds to deduct money from your security deposit. If you are unsure regarding your plans in a year’s time, it may make more sense to rent a place that offers the option of a month-to-month agreement, which will allow you more flexibility if you need to suddenly move out. Certain property management companies charge hefty fees to renters who decide to break their lease and move out early so check the terms that apply before submitting a signed lease.

5 - Confirm whether your landlord requires renter’s insurance and, if so, what the deadline to provide proof that you purchased a policy is

Massachusetts state law does not require renter’s insurance, however, some landlords ask for it because it can help them avoid claims filed by tenants if the tenants’ personal property is damaged or lost. Aside from the benefits to your landlord, getting renter’s insurance coverage is a smart move anyway because a renter’s policy will cover your personal belongings if they are lost or destroyed (e.g. due to theft, a fire, or a flood). It also provides liability coverage in case a guest is injured while visiting and may even cover relocation or temporary housing expenses if a catastrophic event renders your rental unlivable for a certain period of time.

Your landlord should, of course, have insurance for their property, but their coverage does not extend to your belongings which means that if an accident happens they will not be responsible for replacing your laptop or reimbursing you for a stolen bicycle. Massachusetts renter’s insurance also tends to be less expensive than the same type of coverage in other states so being proactive about avoiding future out-of-pocket costs is a wise decision.

At BRZ we are invested in supporting you through all life transitions in order to ensure that you come out the other end satisfied and prepared for whatever might come your way. If you need assistance with selecting a renter’s insurance carrier or setting up a policy, we offer coverage through a variety of companies such as Plymouth Rock, Progressive, Safeco, Universal Property, and Bunker Hill Insurance. Give us a call or stop by for a hot cup of coffee and a quick chat.

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