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The pandemic has some Boston renters second-guessing their leases

Renting
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Whether it’s signing on to rent a space that costs a good chunk of your income or piling in with six roommates, it’s hard to have no regrets when it comes to Boston real estate.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the city in March, many Bostonians started to second-guess their pricey monthly rents — costs that reflected the proximity to the city’s diverse amenities. But with a newfound ability to work remotely and pandemic-induced closures of restaurants and cultural institutions, some residents say they wish they thought twice before re-signing their leases. In August, a Reddit thread titled “Anyone else regret renewing their lease close to the Boston area?” demonstrated this renter remorse.

Sean Donovan re-signed his lease for his 550-square-foot apartment in Back Bay, but has had second thoughts.

“I resigned my lease in May, with the management company only giving tenants seven days to do so,” said Donovan, who works as a client experience manager.

Soon after he re-signed, Donovan’s salary was cut 25 percent. And with no outdoor space, the quarantine period started to feel confining in his small studio, where he’s lived for three years. It’s for reasons like these that Donovan said he wishes he attempted to negotiate with his landlords.

“A few tenants [in the building] tried to talk their monthly payments down, but the management was not entertaining the idea, and, as a result, four tenants in my building moved out,” Donovan said. “I do intend to start a conversation about lowering my rent, even if temporarily.”

Donovan’s situation isn’t rare, according to John Puma, chief operations officer of the apartment search site Places of Less.

“Those who re-signed during COVID either at the same rent price or higher often did so as a result of not having enough information about the rental market,” Puma said. “New renters typically don’t know that rent prices and lease terms are completely negotiable, especially when landlords are facing huge vacancy rates. However, you will still find landlords who stay firm on their pricing, and it forces you to make a tough decision.”

Add in the extremely short renewal-notice deadlines like the one Donovan faced, and tenants face a challenging battle. Sean Macaluso moved into a four-bedroom apartment in Charlestown in September 2019. Just three months later, he was given a deadline of January 1 to decide whether to re-sign his lease at an increased rate. For several months, he attempted to negotiate a freeze on the increase. After 40-plus days with no response from the property management company, he was notified in August that the company would not increase his rent for now to “preserve the lease.”

Macaluso said he wishes he looked for a place that was less expensive, preferably in a less competitive neighborhood. But for dedicated urbanites like himself, dramatic headlines that question whether cities are “dead” won’t have him taking off for greener pastures.

“I wouldn’t mind being somewhere a little less in demand for renters but still in the city proper or surrounding,” Macaluso said. “But I am still only really interested in city living.”

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