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Another sign of Boston’s soft rental market: Permits for moving trucks are way down

New data show it’s been an especially slow September in the Fenway and Seaport neighborhoods.

In busier years, like 2016, moving trucks were even blocking bike lanes in Boston. But permits to park moving vans fell sharply this September in Boston, the latest sign of the city's soft rental market and absent student population.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

In another sign of how unusual this September has been in Boston, even the moving trucks are staying put.

The lack of activity is an indication of the city’s soft rental market. A real estate website this week crunched the numbers on how many people sought permits to park moving trucks in Boston this year, and found requests are down sharply in September compared with last year. Indeed, they’ve been down for five of the last six months, and are off 15 percent for 2020.

It’s a real-life example of the COVID-19-induced slowdown in Boston’s typically-tight apartment market, said data analysts at Renthop, who have tracked city moving permit data for several years. As the traditional Sept. 1 turnover date approached, some landlords were cutting rents and offering a month or more free as incentives to fill thousands of still-unspoken-for apartments. And sure enough, when move-in weekend hit, there were fewer rental trucks plying the streets from Allston-Brighton to the Seaport.

“Generally speaking,” Renthop wrote, “The more moving truck permits issued, the more real estate activity there is.”


The declines have come nearly across the board, but were more pronounced in some neighborhoods than in others.

The steepest decline has come in West Roxbury — where a small shift can lead to a big percentage drop because of the relatively low volume of activity. After that came the Seaport — where moving permits in a neighborhood of often-pricey new buildings are down 48 percent — and the Fenway, which is especially popular with students.

Of 25 Boston ZIP codes Renthop analyzed, moving permits climbed in only two: 02120, covering Mission Hill and part of Roxbury near Longwood Medical Area, and neighboring 02119, centered around Nubian Square.

But there is a caveat: Some building owners say lease renewals were strong, as homebound working professionals simply skipped the annual apartment hunt this year and chose to stay put, especially if landlords sweetened the deal to avoid empty units. Fewer people moving doesn’t necessarily mean empty apartments.


Also, after falling all spring, moving permits climbed a bit in August — before dropping again in September — though Renthop noted August is the month many college students move into dorms, a process that took longer this year due to COVID-19 protocols.

But with the peak of Boston’s rental season behind us, it could be almost a year now before those moving trucks come back in force.

Tim Logan can be reached at Follow him @bytimlogan.