In addition, the landlord must send the tenant a description of the apartment's condition. "These statements of condition almost always say this is a wonderful, pristine apartment, and it often isn't," says Ross. "Go through and be careful — I'd say anally compulsive — about listing anything wrong with the apartment. Put the date on it and send it to the landlord."

If your landlord flakes on any of these laws, you can demand that they return your full security deposit at any time — although you may not want to annoy an otherwise reasonable landlord with such a request.


DURING YOUR LEASE

It's almost inevitable that something will go wrong — an overflowing toilet, a busted radiator, a small interdimensional wormhole. Hopefully a quick phone call will take care of the problem, but if it doesn't, tenants should carefully document both the problem and that they told the landlord about it.

If your walls are crawling with unwelcome visitors, keep in mind that the law requires that the building "free from rodents, cockroaches, and insect infestation, if there are two or more units in the building." Both Boston and Cambridge have inspectional services departments to call, and Boston also operates a "no heat" hotline. "No-heat complaints are responded to very quickly in heating season," says Fanara.

Fanara advises against simply paying out of pocket to fix a problem and then deducting it from the rent without getting an okay from the landlord. But if there's no alternative, state law does allow that, provided the landlord was given a chance to respond and didn't.

One thing both Fanara and Ross stress is the importance of putting your requests in writing, rather than simply making a phone call — and US mail is better than simply sending an e-mail.

If communication with your landlord collapses completely, Boston's Rental Housing Resource Center offers free mediation services, and Fanara reports that most cases can be settled without legal action. The Cambridge Consumers' Council offers similar assistance.

Your landlord can't evict you, or even charge a late fee, for being a few days late with the rent. In fact, your landlord can't charge a late fee at all unless your lease says they can — and then only if the rent is more than 30 days late. Landlords also can't demand that you make "advance rent" payments other than the first and last months' rent. But always being late with the rent is a bad idea. Besides pissing off your landlord, it can wreck your credit score.

Partying hard can indeed get you kicked out. Fanara doubts that a single rager will get a tenant booted out, but says many leases contain "nuisance" clauses. That means that if the neighbors or cops keep complaining, the landlord may try to evict you.

Except for an emergency, the landlord can't enter the apartment without your permission — if they do, you can call the police and complain that they're trespassing.

Protip: remember that security deposit or last month's rent? You're entitled to the interest from the escrow account. If your landlord just kept it under his mattress instead, you can still get five-percent annual interest on it — which can be deducted from your rent if the landlord fails to pay up on the lease's anniversary.

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