No Heat, No Windows? Cambridge Official's Apartment Search Reveals Renters' Plight

Burhan Azeem, a city councilor in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is chronicling his fraught search for a new apartment on social media and calling for new protections for tenants

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Affordable housing has become difficult to come by in the Boston area, and an elected official is speaking out about his own impending move.

Cambridge City Councilor Burhan Azeem says he has one week to find a new home. He moved out of his previous apartment with a new place lined up, only to find out it was going to be subleased to someone else.

"It's been so difficult. I've been on the Facebook groups, Craigslist, word of mouth, and so many times, like, you post a place online and you get six applicants within 30 minutes and it's already taken," said Azeem. "I've gotten rejection after rejection and you can see the posts that I've gotten [saying] 'Sorry, someone else applied first.'"

He has been chronicling his experience on Twitter, sharing screen shots of responses to his applications.

One email warned him a room offered at $1,000 a month was small, with no heating and no windows.

"There has been claims about pests that never got cleaned up. Some people have to pay their utilities to their landlord, but their landlord pays the utilities late, so sometimes, they are out of hot water and things like that for a couple of days," said Azeem. "There is a real lack of tenant protections in a lot of these listings and how poorly they are managed."

His tweet caught the attention of Newburyport real estate agent Rachel Person Brook.

"So what you are telling me is you want someone to pay $1,000 a month for a walk-in closet? That's not legal," she said in a TikTok video.

"It's not a shock to me, especially with the demand that's out there, and the lack of inventory is hitting every aspect of real estate," said Person Brook.

She says it can also make people desperate to find something, but recommends people do their research on rental companies and third-party sites.

"The number one tip I have for people looking for an apartment is don't go it alone. Having representation is key, because you don't know what you don't know as a consumer, and that is what I am trying to do on my TikTok is trying to educate consumers about what their rights are and what's legal," she said.

This experience is renewing Azeem's focus on housing policy.

"The good part is that we know the answer," he said. "There are tenant protections that we can pass, and there are things we can do to create a lot more affordable housing in the city."

In addition to his role as a city councilor, Azeem also works with nonprofit Abundant Housing Massachusetts addressing the regional housing crisis. As for his own housing situation, he's hoping to find something soon.

"It's really stressful," he said. "I mean, I'll be OK. Worst case, I can get an Airbnb or something, but I'm really hoping to not have to get there."

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