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Finding and Renting an Apartment

Once you have a basic idea of the neighborhood(s) you may want to live in you should decide whether you want to use a real estate agent to help you find an apartment. Mass General Brigham does not offer employee or student housing.  The following information will help you learn more about Boston-area housing and finding an apartment.  

What to know before you start looking for an apartment

The City of Boston provides several tips on avoiding apartment scams. Never, under any circumstances, send money to anyone without securing a lease and confirming the property manager has legal right to rent the property. Common scams feature an owner/landlord who is out of the country and cannot show the property. Scammers use a variety of tools and methods to post fraudulent listings on many internet listing sites so be cautious when reviewing on-line adds.

Before you move in, the landlord (apartment owner) can only collect the first and last month‘s rent, one month's security deposit, and the purchase and installation costs for a lock and key.

When you see an apartment that you really want, you may want to claim it right away.

To claim an apartment, you will need to sign a lease, which is a contract for you to stay in an apartment for a length of time, usually for one year.

Read the lease details about your responsibilities in case you decide to move out before the lease expires. If you do not have a lease, you or the landlord may end the living arrangements with only a 30-day notice.

Large apartment buildings might have specials or promotions, such as giving you the first month of rent for free. Smaller apartment buildings might negotiate a better price for the monthly rent if you ask. 

You may ask for a better price if an apartment is available in the winter. Boston winters are cold, and people usually do not want to move during the winter so the landlord may be more flexible.

August and September are the busiest months of the year for apartment rentals because university classes start in September and many students are moving in and out of Boston. If you are moving to Boston during this time, quickly put a deposit on an apartment that you like because somebody else might take it immediately.


Using a realtor to find an apartment

Once you have a basic idea of the neighborhood(s) in which you want to live, decide whether you want to use a realtor (also called a real estate broker or real estate agent). A realtor is a person you pay to do most or the entire apartment search for you. It is best to identify realtors you would like to hire three months before you arrive in the U.S. because apartments are usually identified two months before they become available.

Realtors will find apartments and make appointments for you to view each apartment.

A realtor is especially useful to people who have not yet come to the U.S. because they usually have a large selection of apartments, and they have access to apartments not available to the general public.

A realtor will charge you a fee only if you rent an apartment, they found for you or if the landlord from whom you would like to rent is represented by a realtor. Realtors charge fees for finding you an apartment—usually between half a month's rent and a full month's rent of any apartment you select. Some realtors charge a fee to the landlord (property owner) instead of the tenant (person who rents the apartment).  

Who pays the fee depends on how easily landlords can find tenants

Only a licensed real estate broker or salesperson can charge you a fee for finding an apartment. The amount, due date, and the purpose of the fee must be disclosed to you prior to any transaction.

Finding an apartment without a realtor

If you choose not to hire a realtor, the following websites may be helpful to find an apartment. Please be sure to ask whether a realtor represents the landlord and whether the realtor will charge you a fee if you select the apartment.

Boston Housing Advice
Comprehensive guide to searching for an apartment in Boston, created by Boston residents. 

Participating Landlords
Partners Graduate Medical Education provides a lease guarantee program for eligible Residents and Clinical Fellows and maintains a list of landlords who have participated in the program. If you are interested in finding an accommodation with one of these landlords with an existing relationship with Partners, please contact them directly.  

Best for: Long term. Residents and Clinical Fellows.

Harvard off-campus housing
The listings on this site is offered as a service to local rental property owners and to Harvard University graduate students, faculty, and staff.  

Best for: Short Term; Long Term

Short term rentals posted by current occupants

Best for: Short Term

Rotating Room
A source for professionals planning sabbaticals, extended visits, or research exchange trips.

Best for: Short Term

Academic Homes
A free listing service started to provide housing information for rotating medical students.

Best for: Short Term

Refer to the housing section for Boston apartment listings.  

Best for: Short Term; Long Term

Our office has found that it is common for visa holders to join Boston Housing Groups on Facebook to find apartments and roommates. However, please be mindful of potential scams.

Questions to ask a potential landloard

Here are some questions to ask the landlord before you agree to rent an apartment (and other things to think about):

  • When will the apartment be available so that you can move in?

  • How much security deposit is needed, and does the first and last month’s rent have to be paid as well (if there is no damage to the apartment, the landlord will give the security deposit back to you when you move out of the apartment)?

  • Do you or the landlord pay for utilities (heat and electricity)? And how are they powered? Gas is cheaper than electric, and oil prices change often. The landlord always pays for the hot water, and you always pay for the phone.

  • If you have to pay for heat, what is the average winter heating bill for the unit? This is very important because it could make an apartment much more expensive

  • Are major appliances included, such as a refrigerator or a clothes washer/dryer? If a clothes washer/dryer is not in the apartment, does the building have a laundry room?  In not, where is the nearest laundromat?

  • Can you share the apartment with other people (roommates)?

  • Is there central air conditioning? If not, can you use a window air conditioner during the summer?

  • Is there a fire detector and carbon monoxide detector in the apartment? A fire detector is legally required. It is recommended that you buy a carbon monoxide detector if one is not included

  • Where and when do tenants dispose garbage? Is there a recycling program? 

  • Where is the nearest post office, supermarket/grocery store, bank, and public transportation?  

  • Are pets allowed? 

  • If you have a car, is parking available on the property and is parking included in the rent? Are any special permits are required to park in the lot or in the streets around the building? 

  • Will the apartment be professionally cleaned before you move in? Will the carpets be cleaned? Will the walls be painted? 

  • What is the crime rate in this neighborhood (you can also inquire with the local police department)?

  • Is it a deadbolt and/or a chain on the door(s) to the apartment to help prevent robberies?

Renter’s insurance

If you will be renting an apartment, you may want to consider purchasing a renter’s insurance policy. Renter’s insurance is financial protection from any theft, destruction, or damage (such as a fire) to your property.

As a renter, you do not own the actual house or apartment. The renter’s insurance only covers your personal property (such as furniture, clothes, personal items, etc).

For more information, you can call any insurance company or visit their website.

Tenants’ rights and responsibilities

Massachusetts law prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, religion, national origin, age, ancestry, military background or service, gender, sexual preference, marital status, blindness, deafness, or the need of a guide dog, except owner-occupied two-family dwellings.

The landlord of your apartment must provide you (the tenant) with enough water, with adequate pressure, to meet your ordinary needs. The apartment must also have a heating system in good working order. The kitchen must have a sink of sufficient size and capacity for washing dishes and kitchen utensils, a stove and oven in good repair (unless your written lease requires you to provide your own), and space and proper facilities for the installation of a refrigerator.

The landlord is not required to provide a refrigerator. If a refrigerator is provided, however, the landlord must keep it in working order. The landlord must maintain the apartment free from rodents, cockroaches, and insect infestation, if there are two or more apartments in the building. 

Every landlord must maintain the foundation, floors, walls, doors, windows, ceilings, roof, staircases, porches, chimneys, and other structural elements of the building so that it keeps out wind, rain, and snow. The structure must be rodent-proof, weather-tight, watertight, and free from chronic dampness. Every exit used or intended for use by occupants of more than one dwelling unit or rooming unit must be maintained free from obstructions, such as snow.

You have the right to complain or take legal action if any of the above items are violated. If your rights as a tenant have been violated, please view the Guide to Landlord and Tenant Rights in Massachusetts for more information.

Your landlord, or an agent for your landlord, may only enter your apartment for the following reasons:

  • To inspect the premises

  • To make repairs

  • To show the apartment to a prospective tenant, purchaser, or mortgagee

  • In accordance with a court order, if the apartment appears to be abandoned

  • To inspect the premises within the last 30 days of tenancy in order to determine the amount of damage, if any, to be deducted from the security deposit

The landlord should be reasonable and attempt to arrange with you for a mutually convenient time to visit the apartment.