Frequently Asked Questions

Working with Apartment Rental Experts

  1. How does the process work?
  2. Do I have to sign anything to list with you?
  3. How much do you charge?
  4. Can I list with other offices?
  5. What are the advantages of listing exclusively with you?
  6. If I list with you am I going to have 30 agents calling me and driving me crazy?
  7. How do you check to see if someone is qualified to rent my apartment?
  8. Do you do property management?
  9. Do you know contractors, repairman, or plumbers who can help me out?
  10. Can you help me if I want to sell property?
  11. Can you help me if I want to purchase investment property?

Renting Your Apartments

  1. What is the market like?
  2. How can I get better tenants?
  3. How can I get more rent for an apartment?
  4. What should I do to get my apartments rented more quickly?
  5. Should I allow pets?
  6. What should I do with the security deposit?
  7. What if people move in who are not on the lease?
  8. Can I charge for water usage?
  9. What are the requirements for carbon monoxide and smoke detectors?
  10. What must I do about lead paint?
  11. Do I have to give the tenant notice before I show an apartment?
  12. What can I do if my tenants are making it hard to show an apartment?
  13. What can I do if a tenant wants to break his/her lease?
  14. What if I need to send tenants a notice to quit or need to evict them?
  15. What if the lease has expired, but the tenants are still there and paying their rent?


Working with Apartment Rental Experts

  1. How does the process work?
    If you want to list with us, start with a call or email to one of our offices. Or click here to submit a listing online. All our agents are trained to take a listing, which they then distribute immediately, so everyone knows your unit is available.

    If we have not had the listing before, a manager will contact you to set up a preview and discuss pricing, showing instructions, key arrangements, etc. You should also let us know what sort of lease you want us to use and whether you have any addenda or special provisions. Your level of involvement from then on is up to you.

    Once we have tenants interested in the apartment, we will make the application review process simple and complete so you can make an informed decision about whether or not to accept an offer. We can handle all the lease paperwork with standard RHA forms or use customized forms that you provide us.
  2. Do I have to sign anything to list with you?
    No.
  3. How much do you charge?
    We don’t charge you anything to:
    • List
    • Preview
    • Photograph
    • Show your apartment

    We do have a fee equal to one month’s rent, but how this fee is paid varies. In the current market, the landlord and tenant usually split the fee 50/50. But you can list as full fee to tenant or full fee to you – there are advantages to both approaches. You should choose the approach that feels most comfortable for you.

    We can also run a credit report for you for $25 if you are swapping out tenants.

    If you need full lease paperwork done for tenants you find yourself, we charge $200 per tenant and/or co-signer. Additional charges may apply if we are to handle follow up issues such as landlord reference checks, income verification, and move-in coordination. Other arrangements can be discussed on a case-by-case basis.
  4. Can I list with other offices?
    Of course, we love to work with landlords who list with us exclusively. That sort of relationship endures from year to year, and we can become an extension of your personal or corporate business plan. In an exclusive arrangement, we can also customize our service to your most exacting standards. But not everyone wants to list exclusively and that’s fine, too. We will work with you however you want us to. And, in either case we will work hard to earn your respect and repeat business.
  5. What are the advantages of listing exclusively with you?
    Some landlords think they will get the best tenants if they list with every company in town for maximum exposure to the market. This is an understandable approach, but it requires a lot of involvement on the part of the landlord. If this is your style, get to know the managers of all your listing agencies and be prepared to be a gatekeeper. Since rental agencies have different policies and standards of service, you may need to explain your preferences to each agent who calls. On the other hand, you might pick just two or three agencies to list with. This provides peace of mind about exposure, but also simplifies your life. Finally, you may want to deal with only one agency. If a rental agency knows that a landlord lists only with them, the stakes are very high to deliver. We know you don’t want to be preached at about how Apartment Rental Experts is the best and will make you a lot of money and solve all your problems. We are good, but we aren’t perfect, and may not be the agency for you. We do, however, have more offices, rent more apartments and advertise far more than any rental agency in the Cambridge-Somerville market. If you are interested in having an exclusive rental brokerage as part of your team, you can’t do better than working with us.
  6. If I list with you am I going to have 30 agents calling me and driving me crazy?
    We do have 30+ agents, and they will work hard to rent your apartment. However, we also have a centralized listing and update system that you can use to give special showing instructions or limits on when to call. In the past, in order to have 30 agents on the job, you would have had to call several companies and re-explain your preferences every time. The same is true for updating a listing. At Apartment Rental Experts, one call updates everyone, which makes your life easier.
  7. How do you check to see if someone is qualified to rent my apartment?
    Our process includes the following:
    • Run credit checks
    • Obtain verification of employment or other ability to pay
    • Contact co-signers if necessary and have them sign notarized guarantor forms
    • Check current and former landlord references
    • Check personal references, if necessary
    • If there is more to the story (sometimes things get complicated), we dig up whatever information you need
    • Then you, not we, decide whether or not to accept the application
  8. Do you do property management?
    At this point, we do not. However, we can refer you to property managers or management companies that we work with.
  9. Do you know contractors, repairman, or plumbers who can help me out?
    We do know vendors that have provided quality service for us and our customers in the past and are happy to provide you with their contact information. However, we are not contractors and do not assume liability for any references we provide.
  10. Can you help me if I want to sell property?
    We are licensed to sell real estate just like any other brokerage, but that is not our primary focus. For most real estate agencies, rentals are side work and sales are the main show. For us, rentals are the featured attraction.
  11. Can you help me if I want to purchase investment property?
    Our broker, Dave Scott, works with buyers and investors and will be happy to speak with you about investment property. His direct line is 617-684-8002 and his email is dave@ApartmentX.com


Advice on Renting Your Apartments

  1. What is the market like?
    We get this question a lot. The long and short of it is that the rental market in our area of expertise is great! Does this mean that rents never go down in Cambridge and Somerville? No, or course not. After 9/11, some rents plunged as much as 20%, and took a while to recover. And after a banner year for landlords in 2008, the market softened some in 2009, proving that recessions do affect everyone. But the rental market here has strong fundamentals, because people always want to live in Cambridge-Somerville, along the Red Line. If the economy is weak, rents might sag a little, sometimes even a lot. But it’s a sure bet that rents will be down less along the Red Line in Cambridge and Somerville than they will be almost anywhere else in the world. Between the vibrant nightlife, world-class universities and limited supply of land, this little corner of the world is a great area for both landlords and tenants. The best way to deal with the market is to talk to a good rental agent – that would be us – and take the temperature of the market each year. And, most importantly, get your listings out early. If you list in June for your September vacancy, you can set the asking price a little higher, at first. If you get no bites, you can lower the rent. But if you wait until three weeks before your lease ends to tell us you have a listing, then there is not much time to operate.
  2. How can I get better tenants?
    The most important thing is to price your unit carefully, so you get top rent but can still be selective. If your price is so high that only one person applies after it’s been on the market for six weeks, you might reconsider your approach. But if you can generate solid applicants in a reasonable time frame, you should feel comfortable maintaining high standards.
  3. How can I get more rent for an apartment?
    This is the big question for many landlords. Let’s look at two strategies. The first involves spending no money and the second spending at least a little.

    Free Option:
    • Get your listing out early. Especially if you have turnovers for June through September, it is essential to list your apartment at least 45-60 days before the availability date. That way you can test the market a little and still have time to lower the rent, if you have to. Ninety or more days is an even better timeframe, especially if you have a multi-bedroom unit.
    • Keep the building common areas and grounds clean and tidy.
    • Communicate with your tenants and be sure that you and/or we can easily show the apartment with reasonable notice – and get us a key if at all possible!
    • Be available to review applications – it’s hard to close a deal with landlords we can’t find.
    • Consider taking a dog. Not any dog. Doggie references can be as important as people ones. But many great tenants are turned away because of their dogs and will pay a premium for a decent apartment that is pet-friendly.

    Non-Free Option:
    Obviously, people will pay more for a nicer place. But you don’t need to overdo it. If you want to gut a place, fine. These days, quality is paying off more than ever, and there is strong demand for $2000+ 2 bedrooms close to the T. But just as often it helps to:
    • Do a thorough cleaning
    • Paint the apartment
    • Have hardwood floors sanded or screened

    Other reasonably priced upgrades are:
    • Additional electrical sockets (installed by a licensed electrician) and cable and phone jacks -- especially important for the Internet-thirsty clientele that rents in this area.
    • A dishwasher on wheels
    • A wire rack for pot storage with a butcher block top
    • Laundry facilities

    If you really want to set yourself apart, consider having your unit de-leaded. This is a wise move for liability reasons and also attracts excellent tenants.
  4. What should I do to get my apartments rented more quickly?
    Get your listing out at least 45 and ideally 60-90 days before the availability date and try to get us and any agency you list with a key. And the next point is essential: make sure your existing tenants understand how the apartment will be shown and treat them with respect – unhappy tenants can make a place very difficult to show. Also, you might spiff up the yard and common areas a little, and maybe even the apartment itself, so that the property shows well.

    But it comes down to price. Want a quick rental? Offer a great deal. Sometimes, offering to pay the full fee is an excellent incentive. For a $1200 apartment, paying the full fee instead of half is worth $50/month in the first year, but then you have the apartment leased at a higher rate going into the second year and the cost of paying the fee becomes less significant.
  5. Should I allow pets?
    There are risks. Cat urine is very smelly and hard to eradicate. Dogs can be a nuisance to neighbors, and some scratch woodwork. Rabbits, ferrets and birds all have their issues. But people with pets cannot rent some apartments and therefore are often willing to pay more. If you simply never take pets, you miss out on a potential premium from good pet owners who will take care of your property as well as they take care of their animals. The key is to check references, especially on a dog, and to make sure that cats are spayed or neutered. Also, tenants with great credit, stable jobs and a good rental track record are also likely to be responsible pet owners who take their animal to the vet and don’t like smells any more than you do.
  6. What should I do with the security deposit?
    It must be held in an escrow account set up in the name of at least one of the tenants. Your bank will know what needs to be done. When you set up the account you should bring the application package with tenant social security numbers. Some banks require a W-9 as well.
  7. What if people move in who are not on the lease?
    Unless permission has been granted by the original lease, additional occupants not on the lease are a violation of the contract. You may be entitled to send a notice to quit, and if this is the route you want to take, you should consult an attorney. However, the better solution is often to compromise. Have the new resident fill out an application, so normal credit checks and review can be done. In the process of getting an application, you can take the temperature of the situation and decide how aggressively you want to enforce the occupancy clause of the lease. In the end, you may simply decide to have the new person added to the lease.
  8. Can I charge for water usage?
    Technically, yes. Massachusetts passed a law allowing landlords to separately meter each unit for water usage and pass the cost on to tenants, similar to gas and electricity. However, there are a lot of details you must take care of. For example, you have to install not just a separate meter but also water-saving devices throughout the unit, and you need to contact the city and have an inspection to be sure you are in compliance before making tenants pay. You also have to properly notify tenants of the change, or the possibility of a change in the future. In short, there are a lot of legal issues you should make yourself aware of. We cannot give legal advice, so we recommend that you research state law, call the city inspectional services department, and be sure to do everything right.
  9. What are the requirements for carbon monoxide and smoke detectors?
    Carbon Monoxide Detectors
    In short, you need carbon monoxide (CO2) detectors on every floor of every rental unit. There will be an inspection when you sell, but you should not wait until then to install detectors. Landlords are required to inspect detectors annually and must keep batteries in working order. But do not just read what we have here. CO2 detectors are an important legal and safety issue, and if you have questions you should go right to state-certified sources or your lawyer to make sure you are in compliance. Here are some links to websites you can consult:
    Smoke Detectors
    The Massachusetts State Board of Fire Prevention Regulations has approved new smoke detector rules, in effect as of January 1, 2010. Rules are different for new construction and extensive renovations than for older, unrenovated properties. Renovated properties must have hard-wired smoke detectors in every room. Older properties must have battery smoke alarms, and landlords must keep the batteries fresh. Check state requirements for where smoke detectors should be placed, but the best procedure is to put one in every room and common area, and two in any large room or area. For new renovations, there are also fire codes requiring emergency lights, etc., and our website should not be relied on for full compliance information. Consult the following website for more details:
  10. What must I do about lead paint?
    Massachusetts has some of the strictest lead paint laws in the nation. The rules are set forth in the Massachusetts Lead Law Notification published by RHA, which is required to be included with every lease. The basic point is that, legally, in this state, if a child under six moves into an apartment, then you must have it inspected for lead paint hazards. If lead is found, but the dangers are not considered enough to warrant immediate full-scale de-leading, then you can apply for a letter of interim control and set some basic make-safe procedures in motion. Or the inspector may determine that you must de-lead immediately. A letter of interim control is good for a year and can be renewed for a second year, but laws governing this process tend to change with some frequency, so you should consult with state-certified sources to make sure you comply. Full de-leading is eventually required for all apartments where there are children under six years old. Here are some links to websites you can consult:
  11. Do I have to give the tenant notice before I show an apartment?
    Opinions vary on this point. Click here to read one point-of-view, written by A. Joseph Ross., J.D., Donahue & Grolman: Attorneys and Counselors at Law.

    The best situation is where landlord and tenant are on good terms and amicably work out terms of entry. Most tenants in this area just want a new lease to be signed quickly, and they understand that it’s helpful if they make their apartment easy to show. In our leases, we include a provision where the tenant agrees to allow the apartment to be shown for rental by the landlord, or agents of the landlord (or we can add other language, if you prefer). When we show a unit, we always call first, and, if the tenant says it’s a bad time, we don’t go. It’s a good idea to give “reasonable notice,” but reasonable is different for different people and it’s better to be sensitive and open to compromise than to fight. If tenants are familiar with the rental agency a landlord uses, then they will be more open to making the unit available for showings. Not only are we well-known, we make it a point to be respectful to existing tenants.
  12. What can I do if my tenants are making it hard to show an apartment?
    In short, be nice and try to work it out. Most tenants understand that landlords need rent their units and will be reasonable if treated with respect. If a tenant really gets unreasonable, then you may have to be firm and, if necessary, even have a lawyer send a letter. But in most cases we find that calm discussion leads to a mutually agreeable solution. Giving 24-hour notice is usually adequate, and often, once tenants get familiar with us, they don’t mind if we come right over, as long as we call first.
  13. What can I do if a tenant wants to break his/her lease?
    A lease is a binding legal contract, and the tenant is responsible for paying the rent for the term of the lease or until the unit re-rents. However, the landlord must make a reasonable effort to re-rent the apartment, and in a lease-break situation you should keep records of where you list the apartment and how you advertise to show that you are making an effort. Fees incurred by the landlord in the process of re-renting the unit can be charged to the tenant breaking the lease. The best approach, generally, is to try as hard as possible to re-rent the unit, and then settle up with the tenant. Some landlords include a lease-break penalty as part of their lease or addendum. This is a charge added on top of rent and is meant to cover costs associated with getting the unit re-rented. Another option is to offer a tenant a buyout at a fixed price, so that tenant and landlord end the relationship amicably and move on.
  14. What if I need to send tenants a notice to quit or need to evict them?
    Under the rules of our real estate license, we are not allowed to give legal advice, and this question involves sensitive legal issues. Many landlords are comfortable handling a notice to quit by themselves. However, we strongly recommend that you hire an attorney if eviction looks like even a remote possibility. Massachusetts law is complex and you need to be very careful to do everything correctly. That said, the best medicine is prevention. By using a good rental agency you increase your chances of getting the best tenants available, and minimize the possibility of dealing with notices to quit and evictions.
  15. What if the lease has expired, but the tenants are still there and paying their rent?
    Generally, unless you have a self-extending lease, if a fixed term lease runs out, then the tenancy becomes a tenancy at will, and either landlord or tenant can give the other 30 days’ notice from the beginning of the next rental period – usually 30 days from the first of the month that follows.