How to Move Apartments in Boston in the Midst of a Pandemic

From how to get out of your current digs to how to look for a new place, here are your most pressing apartment questions answered.

Photo via Getty Images/Halfpoint Images

Can I tour a new apartment?

Physically speaking, you likely won’t be able to walk through your prospective digs and open all of the cabinets. The tenants currently occupying a unit understandably may not want extra people wandering through their rooms and touching their surfaces during a viral outbreak, and they don’t have to let brokers give tours of their apartments for the time being. But fret not—you can still visualize yourself in a new place with the aid of photos, floor plans, full MLS (Multiple Listing Service) listings, and virtual tours. “Most listing agents should offer a combination [of visual tools],” says Gibson Sotheby’s rentals manager Van French. “If they don’t offer it up front, you can request it from them. And if they don’t have a virtual tour, you could ask the listing agent if they’d be willing to go record a video while walking through the unit.” Asking the agent if they can share recent photos or videos of the apartment—either taken by the current tenant or the listing agent—is a prudent practice across the board, as many marketing photos are reused and often a few years old.

If the place you’d like to tour is vacant, on the other hand, you have a much better chance of being able to do an old-school walk-through. But, cautions French, “In the event you are granted an in-person showing, wear all the proper protective gear including a face mask and gloves, and maintain a distance of at least six feet from all parties while on the showing.” You know the drill.

What if I move into a new place and it’s not what I thought?

So you’ve found a new apartment, it looks great in the pictures, but you move in and something just doesn’t feel right. Given the weird times we’re living through, you’ll likely be asked to sign a piece of paper prior to renting that addresses this exact situation. A sight unseen hold harmless agreement is a document many in the brokerage community are using, which, explains Coldwell Banker agent Ben Snow, basically acknowledges “that an incoming tenant is ultimately renting the property sight unseen through virtual tours, and that once they move in, they can’t back out of the lease because it didn’t meet their expectations.”

Though handing over a security deposit for a place you haven’t inspected in-person may be stomach-churning, renting sight unseen doesn’t have to mean going in blind. Snow recommends leveraging your broker by requesting extra materials, such as floor plans or up-to-date photos. And, if you have particular deal-breakers and must-haves in mind—say, a tiny closet won’t work for you, or you’re on the hunt for a spacious deck—inquire about those elements specifically.

Can I hire a moving company?

Companies who “suport moving and storage services” are indeed included under the umbrella of essential business, so you can give your trusted mover a call to check if they’re still working and see what their availability is. But what does moving even look like these days? For the employees at Boston-based Small Haul, who have extensive experience in apartment-sized moves, it involves masks and gloves being worn by the entire crew, trucks equipped with disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer, and advising customers to maintain a six-foot distance throughout the move. And don’t think that a stay-at-home advisory has put people off relocating—according to Azuraye Wycoff, Small Haul saw a surge of demand in March as everyone scrambled to move back home. “It’s actually quite humbling to know that our team played a rather vital role in helping a lot of people get home to their families,” she says. “We moved over 300 students out that first weekend in March when all the colleges closed.”

Given the continued need for movers, Wycoff suggests planning ahead if you’re getting out of your apartment or into a new one this summer. “For the end of the month moves, especially May 31 and June 1, we ask that tenants submit requests three to four weeks in advance. We expect a backlog of requests into May and June.” For those with some flexibility on their moving date, she says three to seven days is sufficient, and, she adds, “We also can accept most next-day requests.”

What if I can’t pay my rent?

You may have heard something floating around about a moratorium on evictions, and the rumors are in fact true. As of April 20, evictions and notices are prohibited in Massachusetts—lasting until 45 days after Governor Baker’s emergency declaration is lifted, or 120 days from April 20, whichever happens first. Which is to say, if the first of the month rolls around and you can’t pay your rent, you won’t be kicked out. At the present moment, though, there’s not legislation that will provide rent forgiveness when the moratorium lifts, meaning any months of unpaid rent will suddenly be at your door. The key here, says Snow, is to start a dialog with your property manager. “The more that the tenants are upfront with things, the greater level of latitude landlords will extend to them,” he explains. That might mean paying what you can and working out a plan to repay the rest later, or it could mean the landlord accepting a discounted rent, or even forgiving a month of rent. Whatever the solution you come to, honesty and graciousness are the best policy—not the heated email you may be tempted to send.

How can I get out of my lease?

Maybe you are among the many who have lost their jobs due to coronavirus, or maybe the college you’re attending is closed and you have no reason to stick around Boston. As valid as the reason for wanting or needing to break your lease may be, there is the pesky fact that, Snow points out, “It is a binding agreement between a landlord and a tenant, and you are obligated to pay rent for the term of the lease.” So while your landlord isn’t compelled to let you off the hook, open communication and a solid working relationship with them can go a long way. Snow describes an instance with a couple in South Boston who had lost employment due to COVID, and asked their landlord to break the lease. “She allowed them to do it, but in return she said, we need some updated pictures and videos. They took these great videos of the place and it was beautifully staged and immaculately clean. And that really helped out, and we were able to get it on the market and rented in a matter of days,” he says.

The takeaway? When asking for amnesty in getting out of your lease, be ready and willing to help find a replacement tenant. On top of talking to your landlord, Snow recommends reaching out to the real estate company that your apartment building works with, or the broker that helped you find your place. “It’s just more people working for the common good,” says Snow. “We really have to work in a symbiotic fashion. As long as we work together, we’re all going to get through it.”