As we approach the big Boston September apartment rental move-in’s, here are a few items both tenants and landlord’s should know:
The most a landlord can charge you when you first move into an apartment is:
•First month’s rent;
•Last month’s rent payment;
•A security deposit; and
•The cost of a new lock and key.
The last month’s rent and security deposit each can be no more than the first month’s rent. For example, if your first month’s rent is $1,000, a landlord can charge you $3,000 ($1,000 for the first month’s rent, $1000 for a security deposit, and $1,000 for a last month’s rent payment), plus the cost of a new lock and key.
Differences Between a Security Deposit and a Last Month’s Rent Payment
A security deposit and a last month’s rent payment are not the same thing. A security deposit is money that you pay and expect to get back after you move out. The purpose of this money is to protect the landlord in case you damage the apartment or leave owing rent. In the eyes of the law, a security deposit is your money. For this reason a landlord must keep it in a bank account separate from the landlord’s money (and safe in case he goes bankrupt or gets foreclosed on) and must pay you interest every year. When you move out, you do not automatically have the right to withhold your last month’s rent simply because the landlord holds a security deposit.
The purpose of a last month’s rent payment is to protect a landlord against a tenant’s leaving without paying the last month’s rent. When you pay last month’s rent in advance, you should not expect to get this money back when you move out. Instead, it will pay for your last month in an apartment. Also, a landlord does not have to put your last month’s rent money in a separate bank account while she holds onto it. She does, however, have to pay you interest on it every year.
Massachusetts law clearly states that before you move in, a landlord can charge you only first month’s rent, a last month’s rent payment, a security deposit, and the cost of a new lock and key. Often, landlords try to impose extra charges on tenants. They may call these “holding deposits,” “pet fees,” “fees for credit checks,” “cleaning fees,” or “application fees.” These extra fees are illegal.
A separate broker, independent from the landlord, may, however, also charge a “finder’s fee” or “broker’s fee.” A landlord cannot try to escape the requirements of the security deposit law by taking what is really a security deposit and calling it a “cleaning fee” or something else.This is also illegal.
The problem is that if a landlord demands these illegal charges and you either accuse the landlord of violating the law or refuse to pay, the landlord may not rent you the apartment. If you want the apartment and can afford to pay the extra fees, get a detailed receipt for whatever you pay and then take the extra fees out of your future rent after you safely move in. When you do this, write the landlord a letter telling her what you are doing and why.