Housing Vocabulary


Addendum: An addendum is an additional document not included in the main part of the lease. An addendum contains specific "extra" rules and regulations specific to a particular unit. Addendum's often spell out restrictions on number of guests, water furniture, smoking, kegs, and parking. 

Agent Fee: An agent's fee, also known as a finder's fee, can only be a maximum of one month's rent (and in this market, it will be one month's rent). The fee is for the agent's services, such as marketing and showing the property and managing paperwork. If you rent directly from a landlord, they cannot charge a fee, even if your landlord also happens to be a real estate agent.

Amenities: Amenities are desirable or useful features of an apartment, often raising its value and cost. Examples of amenities include air conditioning, granite counter tops, access to transportation, parking, square footage, sunlight, pleasant views, storage space, gyms, pools, porches, etc.

Background Checks: Landlords perform background checks to find out what they don't know about rental applicants and their co-signers. They want to understand a tenant's credit, criminal and eviction history to ensure that will be good tenants who are also able to pay the rent.

Co-Signer/Guarantor: Co-Signers are often parents (but not always) who can demonstrate an ability to financially back a tenant. Co-Signers/Guarantors are almost always required when landlords rent to students - both graduate and undergraduate - because as students they are typically unable to demonstrate an income to cover the cost of rent. For undergraduates, they also usually also do not have sufficient credit history. 

Inspectional Services: Each city/town has an Inspectional Services Department (ISD) that enforces the State Sanitary Code and the City Ordinances that regulate the quality of public and private housing. ISD can be called to help tenants who have landlords that fail to maintain the property at the required standard set forth by city and state codes and ordinances. 

Joint and Several Liability: Jointly and Severally liable essentially means that each co-tenant is independently liable to the landlord for all of the rent. If one tenant can't pay a share of the rent in a particular month, or simply moves out, the other tenant(s) must still pay the full rent. It is critical to find roommates that you can trust!

Landlord: A landlord is the owner of the rental property. Often landlords create "Trusts" or "LLCs" to protect them from personal liability. With the exception of owner occupied rentals, all dwellings rented for residential use are required by law to post the name, address, and telephone number of either the landlord or property manager in a visible interior location. If the landlord is a realty trust or partnership, the name, address and telephone number of the managing trustee or partner shall be posted. If the landlord is a corporation, the name, address and telephone number of the president of the corporation shall be posted.

Last Month's Rent: The purpose of a Last Month’s Rent deposit is to protect the landlord from a tenant leaving without paying rent for the last month of their tenancy. You should not expect to get this money back when you move out, but you also should not pay rent for the last month that you live in your apartment – it’s already been paid. 

Lease: A lease is a contract by which one party conveys their property (the landlord) to another (the tenant) for a specified time, usually in return for a periodic payment.

Off-Street Parking: A place where you can park your car that is not on a road. Sometimes parking spaces are included the property lease agreement, but often these spaces are leased separately. Cost for off-street parking will vary based on demand and the type of accommodation offered.

Property Manager: Property management is the operation, control, and oversight of real estate they they do not own. They take on the responsibility for maintaining the property, leasing apartments, collecting rent and paying bills. Although some property managers do the work themselves, they also hire outside contractors when necessary. The property manager may be responsible for taking care of the property even when there is no tenant. 

Real Estate Agent: Real Estate Agents are professional sales people who market vacant apartments, generate interested prospects and conduct tours. Once they find a prospective tenant, they negotiate the signing of the lease agreement. For their role in marketing and showing a property as well as getting a lease signed, they can charge a "commission fee" of up to one month's rent. This fee is either paid in full by the tenants, the landlord, or split between both depending on the market. Only licensed agents working with a brokerage firm can charge a fee. You can lookup an agent/broker license on the Massachusetts Division of Professional Licensure website.

Renter's Insurance: Renter's Insurance typically provides liability insurance for a tenant's personal property in the event of a water leak, fire, theft, or vandalism. Insurance packages, costs, and coverage will vary from person to person and from place to place.

Right of Entry: Landlords and Property Managers may enter the apartment at reasonable times and with reasonable notice for only these reasons: (1) To show the apartment to prospective tenants, purchasers, lenders or their agents, (2) to inspect the premises, (3) to make repairs, (4) to inspect within 30 days of the end of the tenancy to determine damages to be deducted from the security deposit, (5) if the premises appears to be abandoned or (6) pursuant to a court order.

Security Deposit: In Massachusetts, it is common practice for landlords to require incoming tenants to pay a security deposit. Such deposit cannot exceed the amount of one month’s full rent. The security deposit is a form of protection for the landlord should the tenant cause damage to the property or leave owing rent. A security deposit may only be used for three things: (1) Unpaid rent, (2) the repair of damages caused by the tenant and (3) the payment of the tenant’s percentage of a property tax increase (provided that there was a tax escalator clause in the tenant’s lease).

Sublet: A sublet or sublease is a contract by which one party (the tenant) conveys their rented property to another (the subtenant) for a specific time, usually in return for paying the rent during the that particular term of the lease.

Utilities: Utilities are typically water, trash and sewer, cable, TV, internet, phone and anything else like grounds and maintenance. It is important to discuss what utilities, if any, are included in the rent.

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