My Landlord Wants to Renew My Lease for Next September, But I Can’t Think That Far into the Future!

published Oct 27, 2020
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Dear Apartment Therapy,

I rent an apartment in Boston and am on a Sept. 1 lease cycle. (It’s a notoriously popular move-in date thanks to all the college students here—about two-thirds of the city’s leases turn over on this day.) Last December, my property management company asked my roommates and I if we planned on renewing our lease for another year. Now, this year, they added into our lease that we must notify them and resign by Jan. 15, 2021, for a Sept. 2021 lease. 

It seems absurd that I need to give nine months’ (!) notice to re-sign, especially since last winter I had to decide if I wanted to stay in my apartment for another year after only three months of living there. Is there anything I can do to buy myself more time—especially when it’s so hard to think about the future these days?

Lease-t of My Problems

Dear Lease-t of My Problems,

As someone who lived in Boston for eight years, I know this conundrum well. When I moved into my first-ever apartment on a Sept. 1 start date, my property management company also demanded my roommate and I decide if we’d stay for a second year that December. And we did—because we knew somebody else would scoop up our place if we didn’t! So yes, renting in Boston can be a nightmare, and there are some strange things landlords do to make it extra hard.

But the pandemic is making everything doubly difficult, as you know. And due to governmental failures, there’s a wave of evictions plaguing Boston and other cities. Landlords are afraid of not being able to rent their units, so it makes sense they’d want to lock down the next year’s lease as early as possible. 

“Jan. 15 is a pretty standard date to renew by, believe it or not,” says Audrey Allen, operations manager at Brookline-based Red Tree Real Estate. “That being said, nothing about this past rental season has been ‘standard.’ There are unprecedented vacancies this year, and it’s more important than ever for landlords and property managers to know exactly what their tenants are doing as soon as possible. The sooner they know when their tenants are moving out, the sooner they can plan how to turn the apartment over.”

I do think it’s entirely reasonable to ask to get an extension on your lease renewal date. Against all odds, some landlords possess compassion. Though unfortunately if you’ve already signed a lease agreeing to re-sign by Jan. 15, your landlord is not obligated to grant that extension.

“The Jan. 15 lease renewal date, while being a standard in college student-heavy parts of town, isn’t part of the boilerplate standard lease set by the Greater Boston Real Estate Board. You are well within your rights to counteroffer, especially if you’ve been a good and respectful tenant,” Allen says. “Thank you for sending me the lease renewal paperwork; we were wondering if we could adjust the Jan. 15 clause to March 15? A little politeness can go a long away, especially with a property manager who is used to getting nothing but grief from other tenants.”

If you’re feeling stressed about renewing, there’s a good chance other tenants are in the same boat. And if landlords are truly fearful of vacancies, it’d make sense for them to extend a small kindness to help you stay in your apartment.

“Before COVID-19, and consistently during my 13-year leasing career, I can confidently say Boston was unlike anywhere else in that about 75 percent of Sept. 1 leases were signed by the end of April. That’s right, as many as six months prior to the lease start date,” says Kristie X. Aussubel, owner of Presidential Properties in Boston. “Although now the Boston rental market has crashed—with unprecedented new tenant incentives offered by landlords and the lowest rental rates I’ve ever experienced—so who knows what renewal requests and deadlines will look like come Jan. 2021?”

In short, use all that uncertainty to your advantage. Make a polite request, and if necessary, point out the very valid reasons why a renewal date extension would help the both of you. As broker Janis Benstock recently put it: “Landlords need you more than you need them.”