Browsing "Landlords & Tenants"
Boston Landlords –
The City of Boston has implemented a new bureaucracy to oversee your apartments, and it comes with a brand new tax and registration scheme. Even though there are many laws and resources to protect tenants from bad living conditions, we’ve decided to enact another one to accomplish the same thing.
All landlords must register their rental units with the City of Boston’s Inspectional Services Department by August 31, 2013. The registration does not come free. It’s $25 per unit. After that, the anticipated annual renewal fee is $15 per unit.
So, what exactly is a rental unit, and who is a landlord? Well, it’s really quite broad. You’re responsible for registration and payment even if the unit is vacant or if you’re letting a family member live there rent-free.
The registration system is being set up to make the new inspection ordinance easier for city officials. They plan to inspect every rental unit in the city every 5 years. That could mean big penalties and fines for landlords if any defects are uncovered.
What happens if you don’t register? The city is threatening a fine of $300 per unit per month for unregistered rental units.
After working with you and becoming part of the community, I am proud to announce the launch of UrbanVillage Legal – a new kind of law office that’s about you and your neighborhood.
We’re here, as we’ve always been, to protect what’s important to you – your home, your condominium, your neighborhood – your urban village.
What’s in a name? “Urban village” commits us to your neighborhood and our mission. We’re focused on the most local of concerns that shape your daily life and long-term prosperity. Everything that we do starts with your home, protecting your most significant emotional and financial investment.
As any urban villager understands, however, your home isn’t independent of its surroundings. It’s integrally linked to the larger condominium association, neighborhood, and community.
For that reason, we have developed a unique concentration in matters that relate to you – the multifamily resident and investor.
How are we different? In order to meet your needs and accomplish our local mission, we have designed everything – our approachable environment, streamlined processes, transparent pricing, and on-demand communication – around your expectations.
First, we’re approachable and excited to work with you. Many of our clients have never worked with attorneys before. We want you to enjoy your interactions with us at every turn, and we avoid the pretense and aloof attitudes too common in legal services.
We’ve also developed streamlined, efficient processes for our work. If you’re seeking our counsel in a transaction or dispute, we know that you want us to cut the red tape – not create more of it. For real estate transactions, we know how to collaborate efficiently with your broker to make the sale hassle-free.
For all of our busy clients, we offer 24/7 access to your case online and on-demand. In one place, you’ll be able to track deadlines, see appointments, and review all case documents. The online portal not only keeps your case organized – it allows you a transparent look into our work and our billing.
What’s changing? With the launch of UrbanVillage Legal, we offer expanded services with a continued commitment to our shared local neighborhoods. Now, more of our services are available for flat rates – taking the guesswork out of your legal costs.
We’ll continue to offer advice and interesting stories at bostoncondolawyer.com, while publishing a weekly newsletter.
We’re as committed as every to our clients and are excited to announce the opening of UrbanVillage Legal, with expanded service offerings and improved client interface.
Looking for a roommate? Whether you need some extra cash or you’re just lonely, adding a roommate to your condo may be the perfect solution. Plus, you’ll have somebody available to feed the cat while you’re away, sign for your packages, and set the DVR when you’re running late.
As you’d expect, though, roommate situations can go sour very quickly and very dramatically. So, let’s discuss the legal basics and a plan to sign on roommates the right way.
First off, this isn’t a real “lease,” and it’s not really a “landlord-tenant” relationship. Some of the extensive legal protections for tenants apply. Some don’t. Therefore, a basic form lease isn’t a good fit. Take a moment to really think through the arrangement and identify:
- What rooms are private to one roommate, and what spaces are shared?
- What utilities are included?
- What about pets?
- Who’s responsible for buying common household needs, toilet paper, etc.?
- Will any furniture be included?
- What’s the exit strategy if things don’t work out?
- What are the rules for the roommate’s guests?
- Who needs to buy insurance?
- What happens if you want to move or to sell?
- Will the roommate be allowed to work from home?
- Will you ask for a security deposit?
- What about noise and quit hours?
- What about the condo association’s rules and requirements?
Depending on your exact situation, you may have other concerns. But, you’re probably getting my point – it’s best to identify as many possible issues before they become problems.
Now, you’ll want to condense all of the rules, inclusions, and costs into a written Roommate Agreement. It won’t prevent all troubles, but the agreement accomplishes two things. First, it sets expectations. Second, it provides you relief and an exit plan if things do go wrong.
Of course, my office can help assemble Roommate Agreements and navigate the treacherous process of roommate selection. In roommate situations, for example, anti-discrimination rules are relaxed but not absent.
Bottom line: think things through in advance, put it into writing, and don’t use standard forms meant for altogether different “real” leases.
September 1 is coming. If you live in any renter-heavy part of Boston, you know what to expect and to fear. To prepare for Moving Day chaos, here’s part one in a series of landlord-tenant legal issues.
The lease ended, but your tenant’s still there. Now what? Unfortunately, you have a tough decision to make. With some calm reflection and strategizing, though, you can take control of the situation – and your apartment.
Step # 1 – Figure out why the tenant has overstayed his welcome. His motivation makes a huge difference to your strategy. Is he going to be unable to find or pay for an apartment? Then consider moving ahead with the eviction. Does he just need one more month? Consider laying the groundwork for an eviction, but don’t waste too much time on a process that’ll last longer than that. Does he feel justified? If you have already accepted rent, or you have violated one of the many landlord-tenant laws, you may have more to lose than to gain by pursuing an eviction.
Step # 2 – Make your decision. To evict or not to evict? That really is the question, here. Depending on the tenant’s motivations, your reasons for wanting him gone, and your compliance to landlord-tenant laws, you may allow the tenant to stay or start the eviction process.
Choice A: Letting him stay. Once a lease period ends, it automatically continues on a month-to-month basis if the landlord accepts a rent payment. All of the lease terms remain the same, the rent is unchanged, and the tenancy continues. To cancel a month-to-month lease, you’ll need to offer the tenant legally adequate notice. This can be advantageous to avoid the cost, hassle, delay, and risk of an eviction proceeding in court.
Choice B: Eviction. If you really need or want the tenant gone, this is the only legal way to force it. Be prepared, though, the process isn’t fun, quick, or easy. In Massachusetts, expect at least 45 days from the time you file court papers to the date the constable comes knocking on the door. Also, put aside some money for court fees, attorney fees, constable fees, etc. Most importantly, though, take a good hard look at your compliance with landlord tenant law. In an eviction proceeding, a tenant can (and often will) come at you hard for mismanagement. Poor maintenance, faulty handling of the security deposit, entering the apartment without notice and permission, discrimination, etc. are all actions that can come back to cost you a lot of money.
Of course, there are many other creative solutions. Mutual agreements, cash-for-keys deals, and moving assistance may also do the trick. Just don’t, under any circumstance, move the tenant or his property yourself.
For other landlord-tenant questions, please email me: email@example.com
Photo from tvgasm.com
Spike TV is launching a (potentially) cool show next month that’ll give everyone a glimpse into my world. World’s Worst Tenants promises to show us some of the nastiest, meanest, and filthiest nightmares for landlords.
This stuff really happens, and it’s not very easy to remove the world’s worst tenants from your property. So, how do you get them out? In Massachusetts, here’s how:
- First, you send them a “Notice to Quit.” This first step tells them that their tenancy is coming to an end. In Massachusetts, the amount of time you need to give them varies based on the reason for eviction. For lease non-renewals and for claims of wrongdoing, the tenants get until the end of the next rental period (30+ days). For nonpayment of rent, they need a notice of 14 days. Less time is required for drug crimes. I usually send these notices by both First Class Mail and Certified Mail to ensure that it’s received. In most cases, sheriff or constable service is overkill.
- If they do not vacate, you need to file and serve a Summary Process Complain and Summons. In Boston, you can get this at the Housing Court. Filing fees and sheriff service will cost you about $185. If you haven’t done so already, now’s the time to speak with an attorney. This step technically starts a lawsuit, and you want to be prepared for any counterclaims the tenant will make using the state’s many tenant protection laws.
- Get ready for trial. In Boston, the soonest this will happen 17 days after you file the Complaint. These trials are always on a Thursday.
Ok, so I simplified this. I didn’t want to bore you. Here’s the point I want to emphasize, though. The nightmare tenant from hell will likely take at least 48 days to evict. If they fight it, you’re looking at 2-3 months of legal battles to remove them.
I hope I don’t scare off too many would-be-landlords. With some preparation
and tenant screening, you can avoid the nightmare situation. Good luck!
Reality TV has shown us just how bad the emotional disorder of compulsive hoarding can get. If you’ve watched the shows, you’ve seen dead animals, human and animal waste, rodent infestations, bugs, and all sorts of filth. It’s scary enough to live next door to a hoarder in a neighborhood of single-family homes. Now, just imagine the possible complications in a condominium or townhome setting.
So if this happens, can the condo association do anything? After all, it can create health, fire, and even structural problems to the building.
Unfortunately, there are less options available to the association than you’d think. The board of trustees can’t force an inspection or call a cleanup service. As I noted in a previous post about pet restrictions, the HOA can’t regulate too closely the behavior inside a unit. Instead, here are some strategies for you and the HOA. You’re in for a battle, though:
1. Document everything. Take pictures and record any evidence you have of hoarding. This builds your case in a complaint to the city or the court. Look for rodent feces, stacks of newspapers, flies, any anything else that demonstrates that there may be violations inside the unit.
2. If there is an emergency, take the opportunity to collect evidence. Condo associations typically have the right to enter a unit only in the case of an emergency. Emergencies don’t include bad smells or trash pile ups. If, however, there is a real emergency – pipe burst, medical needs, etc. – take some pictures, note any problems, and ask for written observations of emergency personnel. This will build your case for a complaint. Do NOT, however, share this evidence with the world. Keep it fairly confidential to avoid an invasion of privacy claim.
3. Report it to the city. Violations of the sanitary (aka “housing”) code can be prosecuted by cities and towns. Like the association, however, they cannot just storm into private condos to inspect them. They’ll need enough evidence of problems to get a court-ordered inspection. Help them with your documentation.
4. Fine them. Check your condominium documents to see whether any rules (pets, cleanliness, etc.) are being broken. If they are, start proceedings to fine them – and keep repeating. You may or may not be successful in collecting the fine, but it can be a wake-up call. If pursued strategically, this course of action can put the hoarding unit owner on defense. He would need to (or feel compelled to) disprove the hoarding allegations to make the case go away.
Let me be clear – none of these strategies are perfect. Dealing with a hoarder, despite the threats to neighbors, can be a long, arduous process. Does this actually happen? Yes. Read the story of an Andover condominium. There, it took years for the Town and the association to force a cleanup.
For more condo association resources, click here.
During a clerkship with Boston’s Inspectional Services Department, I witnessed first-hand some dangerous and disgusting living conditions. As for the dangerous conditions I saw, luckily, nobody was hurt.
Today, the sentencing of two Quincy landlords to prison reminds us of the seriousness of maintaining safe, legal apartments. The pair will spend the next three years in prison for renting a dangerous and illegal basement apartment that lacked proper egresses and smoke detectors. In 2009, a fire tragically killed their tenant and two young sons.
Landlords – please don’t cut corners for an easy profit. Take the time to investigate compliance with sanitary, building, fire, and zoning codes. Get the proper permits. It may seem daunting, but it can protect you from civil and criminal liability – and save lives.
Tenants – if you’re stuck in illegal or unsafe conditions, report it to your city or town. The law protects you, even if you “agreed” to “as is” conditions. I use scare quotes because nobody should every accept those living conditions – even for low rent.
Here is an incomplete list of legal resources for tenants in Massachusetts. There are some options for landlords, too.
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute: The MLRI offers one of the best comprehensive guides for tenants’ rights.
City of Boston: Good Neighbors Handbook – A Guide for Boston Landlords and Tenants
City of Boston Inspectional Services: A Directory of Resources for Tenants
Massachusetts Attorney General: A Guide to Landlord-Tenant Rights
Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs: Tenant Rights and Responsibilities