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Boston Apartment lease: Watch out!

By a Student, Tuyen Tran

Are you a student and about to sign the very first lease in your life? First of all, congratulation! Yay to your independent life (and other stuffs that come with it). But did you carefully read the lease and thoroughly understand it to make sure it does not include any nonsensical sections that could possibly ruin your upcoming perfect life? Once you sign, you agree to obey all of the rules included. Be my guest today as we are about to pinpoint things to watch out before you sign that lease.

To make things easier and more specific, we will talk about a well-used "standard" lease that is adopted by most real estate agencies around the Boston area, the Standard Form Apartment Lease (Fixed Term), provided by the Greater Boston Real Estate Board (GBREB). If you do not know what it looks like or want to make sure it is the one you are holding in your hands, check out the image in Fig1. This lease is an excellent example of what an aggressive and biased lease looks like. It not only supports all rights of landlords, but also allows landlords to cross over the fine line of lawfulness and unlawfulness by being wildly ambiguous.

It is a very complicated lease with big words as well as long and confusing sentences. Before we get started, here are some small things to keep in mind

  1. The lessor is the landlord, and the lessee is you: as you read through the lease, the terms will probably make you feel like "I will just sign this and call it good, too complication to read". To avoid that, keep the definitions in mind!

  2. Your lease is governed by the laws of the state you live in—the landlord can't make up whatever they want—if you are in doubt, look online for your state's standard lease or official lease laws, usually by adding "site:.gov" to your search.

Watch out for the following clauses

3. Heat and Other Utilities

The Lessee shall pay, as they become due, all bills for electricity and other utilities, whether they are used for furnishing heat or other purposes, that are furnished to the leased premises and presently separately metered, as well as for fuel oil kept in a separate tank which served only the leased premised.The Lessor agrees to furnish reasonably hot and cold water and reasonable heat during the regular heating season (except to the extent supplied through utilities metered to the leased premises or fuel oil kept in a separate tank as stated above), but the failure of the Lessor to provide any of the foregoing items to any specific degree, quantity, quality, or character due to any causes beyond the reasonable control of the Lessor, such as accident, restriction by City, State or Federal regulations, or during necessary repairs to the apparatus shall now (subject to applicable law) form a basis of any claim for damages against the Lessor. If legally permitted, utility meters may consist of submeters installed to allocate charges incurred by the Lessor. Payment by the Lessee for water and sewer service is subject to the provisions of the attached Water and Sewer Submetering Addendum. 

Read: Your perspective landlord is responsible to pay for heat and hot water or/and water and sewer if that is the deal.

Beware:

If utilities (heat and hot water) are not included, make sure to cross out the first highlighted sentence and add "Utilities are not included" in fine prints to avoid confusion.

"The Lessor agrees to furnish reasonably hot and cold water…" : The state laws explicitly states some very specific requirements for quality of heat, water, etc. Cross out "reasonably" and add "according to the requirements of the state code" after "hot and cold water". The Massachusetts guide to tenant rights and responsibilities - "Water: The landlord must provide you with enough water, with adequate pressure, to meet your ordinary needs. […] The landlord must also provide the facilities to heat the water at a temperature between 110º F and 130º F. […] Heat: The landlord must provide a heating system in good working order. The landlord must pay for the heat, unless your lease requires you to pay for it. From September 16 to June 14, every room must be heated to at least 68º F between 7:00 AM and 11 PM, and at least 64º F at all other hours."

"Payment by the Lessee for water and sewer service…" : If water and sewer are included, make sure to cross out this sentence and add "Water and Sewer are included" in fine prints to avoid confusing

4. Attached Forms

The forms, if any, attached hereto are incorporated herein by reference

Read: The included forms will be attached to the lease

Beware: Any included forms on the lease cannot be attached after-the-fact, they should be listed by name in this clause

7. Definitions

The words "Lessor" and "Lessee" as used herein shall include their respective heirs, executors, administrators, successors, representatives and assigns, agents and servants; and the words "he", "his", "him" where applicable shall apply to the Lessor or Lessee regardless of sex, number, corporate entity, trust or other body. If more than one party signs as Lessee hereunder, the covenants, conditions and agreements herein of the Lessee shall be the joint and several obligations of each such party

Read: Not only you are liable for this lease, but also your family, friends, and other non-parties

Beware: This clause attempts to contract non-parties into liability for the lease, which should be obviously unlawful to everyone. Cross out the highlighted section in fine prints since the lease has no right to contract non-parties into the leasing contract

8. Delivery of Premises

In the event the Lessor is not able through no fault of his own to deliver the leased premises to the Lessee at the time called for herein, the rent shall be abated on a pro rata basis until such time as occupancy can be obtained, which abatement shall constitute full settlement of all damages caused by such delay,or the Lessor, at his election, shall be allowed reasonable time to deliver possession of the leased premises, and if he cannot deliver such possession within 30 days from the beginning of said term, either the Lessor or Lessee may then terminate this lease by giving written notice to the other and any payment made under this lease shall be forthwith refunded. Lessee hereby authorizes and empowers Lessor to institute proceedings to recover possession of the premises on behalf of and in the name of Lessee.

Read: If the landlord cannot give you access to the leased unit, he has the flexibility to delay the move in day as long as 30 days. After that, it is up to the landlord or you to terminate the lease with written notice and all payments will be refunded.  

Beware: This clause is definitely written to the landlord's benefit. He has the right to deny your access to a leased place in a 30 days and nothing mentions about the cost of your last-minute housing option?? Cross out the highlighted sentences. The landlord should make all attempts to deliver possession of the leased premises on time unless he agrees to cover the cost of alternate housing.

9. Eminent Domain

If the lease premises, or any part thereof, or the whole or any part of the building of which they are a part, shall be taken for any purpose by exercise of the power of eminent domain or condemnation, or by action of the city of other authorities or shall receive any direct or consequential damage for which the Lessor and Lessee shall be entitled to compensation by reason of anything lawfully done in pursuance of any public authority after the execution hereof and during said term, or any extension of renewal thereof, then at the option of either the Lessor or the Lessee, this lease and said term shall terminate and such option may be exercised in the cause of any such taking, notwithstanding the entire interest of the Lessor and the Lessee may have been divested by such taking. Said option to terminate shall be exercised by either the Lessor or the Lessee, by giving a written notice of exercise of such option to terminate in the manner described in Section 17 of this lease. Said option to terminate shall not be exercise by either party (a) earlier than the effective date of taking, nor (b) later than thirty (30) days after the effective date of taking. The mailing of the notice of exercise as set forth hereinabove shall be deemed to be the exercise of said option; and upon the giving of such notice, this lease shall be terminated as of the date of the taking. If this lease and said term are not so terminated, then in case of any such taking or destruction of or damage to the leased premises, rendering the same or any part thereof unfit for use and occupation, a just proportion of the rent hereinbefore reserved, according to the nature and extent of the damage to the leased premises, shall be suspended or abated until, in the case of such taking, what may remain of the leased premises, shall have been put in proper condition for use and occupation.The Lessee hereby assigned to the Lessor any and all claims and demands for damages on account of any such taking or for compensation for anything lawfully done in pursuance of any public authority, and covenants with the Lessor that the Lessee will from time to time execute and deliver to the Lessor such further instruments of assignment of any such claims and demands as the Lessor shall request, provided however that the Lessee does not assign ot the Lessor any claims based upon Lessee's personal property or other improvements installed by Lessee with Lessor's written permission.

Read: […]  

Beware: Tenants should not be required to give up the right to claim and demand for damages. Cross out the highlighted section

10. Fire, Other Casualty

If the lease premises, or any part thereof, or the whole or any part of the building of which they are a part, shall be destroyed or damaged by fire or other casualty after the execution hereof during said term, or any extension or renewal thereof, then this lease and said term shall terminate at the option of the Lessor by notice to the Lessee. If this lease and said term are not so terminated, then in case of any such destruction of or damage to the leased premises, rendering the same of any of the building customarily used by the Lessee for access to and egress from the lease premises, rendering the same or any part thereof unfit for use and occupation, a just proportion of the rent hereinbefore reserved, according to the nature and extent of the damage to the leased premises, shall be suspended or abated until the leased premises shall have been put in proper condition for use and occupation. If the leased premises or such common areas have not been restored by the Lessor to substantially their former condition for use and occupancy within thirty days after the damage occurred, the Lessee may terminate this lease by giving notice to the Lessor within thirty days following the termination f the thirty day period within which the Lessor failed to restore. If either party gives notice of intention to terminate under this section, this lease shall terminate on the last day of the then-current monthly rental period.

Read: […]  

Beware: In case of fire, tenants need to be entitled to a rent abatement and to the cost of lodging during the time the apartment was uninhabitable if the landlord choose not to terminate the lease. The landlord needs to provide insurance for up to $750 according to the law. Cross out this section entirely. The General Laws of Massachusetts (chapter 175, section 99, clause 15) states that "Every policy which insures multi-unit residential property against loss or damage by fire shall provide additional benefits, by endorsement attached to the policy, up to a limit of seven hundred and fifty dollars, without deductible for each rental unit to cover the the actual costs of relocation of any tenant or lawful occupant displace by fire or by damage resulting from fire […] A waiver of this provision in any lease or other rental agreement shall be void and unenforceable".

12. Governmental Regulations

The Lessor shall be obligated to fulfill all of the Lessor's obligations hereunder to the best of the Lessor's ability but the Lessee's obligations, covenants and agreements hereunder shall not (subject to applicable law) be affected, impaired or excused because the Lessor is unable to supply or is delayed in supplying any service or is unable to make or is delayed in making any repairs, additions, alterations or decorations, or is unable to supply or is delayed in supplying any equipment or fixtures, if Lessor is prevented or delayed from doing so because of any law or government action or any order, rule or regulation of any governmental agency, which is beyond the Lessor's reasonable control.

Read: […]  

Beware:Under Mass General Laws (MGL), the tenant may withhold rent for failure of the landlord to fulfill his or her habitability, safety, and maintenance obligations. In fact, the tenant may repair it him or herself and then bill the landlord for it. Cross out this section entirely.

14. Insurance

Lessee understands and agrees that it shall be Lessee's own obligation to insure his personal property 

Read: rather straight forward

Beware:Ask to see the name of the company insuring the property (against lost or damage by fire) and the amount of insurance.

15. Keys & Locks

Upon expiration or termination of the lease, the Lessee shall deliver the keys of the premises to the landlord. Delivery of keys by the Lessee to the Lessor, or to anyone on his behalf, shall not constitute a surrender or acceptance of surrender of the leased premises unless so stipulated in writing by the Lessor. In the event that the exterior door lock or locks in the leased premises are not in normal working order at any time during the term thereof, and if the Lessee reports such condition to the Lessor, then and in that event the Lessor shall, within a reasonable period of time following receipt of notice from the Lessee of such condition, repair or replace such lock or locks. Locks shall not be changed, altered, or replaced nor shall new locks be added by the Lessee without the written permission of the Lessor. Any locks permitted to be installed shall become the property of the Lessor and shall not be removed by the Lessee. The Lessee shall promptly give a duplicated key to any such changed, altered, replaced or new lock to the Lessor.

Read: […]

Beware:External locks belong to the landlord. Internal locks to or inside the unit, if charged for and (or changed by tenant), belong to the tenant. The landlord does possess them and under law, has a-priori no right of entry. A key may be provided, but then the locks would be a maintenance issue. Cross out this section entirely 

17. Notices

Written notice from the Lessor to the Lessee shall be deemed to have been properly given if mailed by registered or certified mail postage prepaid, return receipt requested to the Lessee at the address of the leased premises, or if delivered or left in or on any part thereof, provided that if so mailed, the receipt has been signed, or if so delivered or left, that such notice has been delivered to or left with, the Lessee or anyone expressly or impliedly authorized to receive messages for the Lessee, or by any adult who resides with the Lessee in the leased premises. Written notice from the Lessee to the Lessor shall be deemed to have been properly given if mailed by registered or certified mail, postage prepaid, return receipt requested to the Lessor at his address set forth in the first paragraph of this lease, unless the Lessor shall have notified the Lessee of a change of the Lessor's address, in which case such notice shall be so sent to such changed address of the Lessor. Notwithstanding the foregoing,notice by either party to the other shall be deemed adequate if given in any othermanner authorized by law.

Read: […]

Beware:An unnecessarily wordy paragraph that can be written in just the highlighted section. Delete all except for the highlighted section.  

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