I was a rental agent in Boston. The tenant usually foots the commission, since there's so much demand for apartments, a landlord doesn't have to do any of the work (background checks, showing, etc) and there will always be another renter who will pay it if you don't. Sometimes a landlord with split the commission if the renter has really good credit and a lot of money and a good job, no pets, etc, even pay the whole thing. This is rare, as most people with good credit and a lot of money and a good job are looking to buy a house, not rent an apartment. If you look during off peak seasons (which run during school cycles) you will probably have a better chance of not paying a fee but the selection will be limited since most leases in Boston run September 1st to August 31st of the next year. I would try moving between November and March if you're looking to avoid the fee. Or just do owner direct.