Browsing "Reality TV"
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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.
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I love this show because it’s entertaining and gives me plenty to write about. This week, the team developed a duplex in Lynn. Instead of selling it as a multi-family, the decided to “go condo” and sell the two units separately.
Why would you “go condo” and what does that mean? It’s a calculated financial decision that assumes the individual sales of each units would make more $ than the sale of building as a whole. Often, that’s a good bet. Doing it, though, can be a fairly lengthy legal process.
First, you want to be sure the proposed condominiums comply with state law and local zoning. (link: Boston zoning) Then, you’d file for approval a master deed & plan – the documents that clearly detail the rights and obligations of the future condo owners. The converter then establishes the condo association that will take over the common responsibilities once the units start to sell. Ready to sell? Not yet. You’ll often need to make arrangements with your lender to release any liens that impede your ability to sell off the units.
Sound complicated? It’s not too bad if “going condo” is truly the right decision for your property.
By accident, I discovered A&E’s new show, Flipping Boston. In the series opener, disputes between the neighbors and the developers made up the show’s dramatic focus. Of course, neighborly disputes are a big interest of mine, so I had to chime in. Even better, the neighbors asserted a list of legal claims/threats – some valid and others not-so-much – that made this post write itself.
For those of you who didn’t catch the episode, here’s the summary: Developers Peter Souhleris & Dave Seymour purchased a rundown house to flip it at 95 Jenness Street in Lynn, MA. (Map – Property Listing). Problems with a neighbor, who also had offered to buy the house, begin at the outset. While TV production can admittedly distort someone’s personality, he was the nosy neighbor that complained about everything, making a host of legal claims. Neighbors on the other side were much more amicable, though a dispute over the location of the fence did arise.
So, for me, this episode gives me the chance to play legal mythbuster, explaining the neighbors’ claims/threats. (Yes, this would be more interesting if you watch the episode). So here are the different issues I saw in the episode:
1. “I made a verbal agreement to buy the house with the old owner. Under Massachusetts law, that’s binding.” Wrong. The Statute of Frauds applies to all contracts for the sale of real estate. So, enforcement of this contract requires a signed writing. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a formal purchase and sale agreement. A verbal agreement for real estate, though, isn’t enforceable in Massachusetts (or anywhere else I know). To be technical, it’s not that the agreement is void. It just can’t be enforced.
2. Bringing over a property boundary map when meeting the new neighbor. Bad idea. Ok, this isn’t really a legal issue, but it shaped the course of the episode by tainting the neighbors’ relationship. Even as a lawyer, I recognize that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. While you may eventually need to check the property map, cupcakes would make a better housewarming gift.
3. “If they don’t keep the property clean, I’m going to call City Hall.” Valid threat. While the make-nice suggestion in #2 fits here, too, cities and towns (usually through the building inspector or inspectional services department) can issue citations for violations of the state building and sanitary code as well as the municipal zoning bylaw/ordinance. As I discussed in an earlier post, those fines can be added to property tax or municipal lien. In this episode, they were assessed a $100 fine for trash by the City of Lynn.
4. “The way the laws of the Commonwealth read, … when a former tenant moves out and leaves his stuff behind, the homeowner must place it in storage for six months.” True, in some circumstances. After an eviction, a landlord must properly store a tenant’s personal property up to six months under state law. There is a difficult distinction between trash, abandoned property, and personal property. While a landlord can eventually seek reimbursement from the tenant (which is practically difficult from an evicted non-paying tenant), they must provide adequate post-eviction storage. It’s unclear from the episode what exactly happened with the tenant, but the neighbor could be right. Important note, though: the neighbor has no standing to argue for the tenant’s rights. Even if the neighbor is entirely correct about the developer’s legal responsibilities, I don’t see how he could use this to his advantage.
5. The developers are liable for lead paint and other environmental risks. Too much for this post, but there is responsibility. Environmental pollution could violate many laws: federal laws & regs, state laws & regs, municipal zoning, and CERCLA liability. Also, impacted neighbors could have common law causes of action for their own damages.
6. Fences. Obviously, you can’t build a fence on somebody else’s property. Also, your right to build can be curtailed by local zoning ordinances and set-back requirements.
Despite the neighborly complaints that delayed some construction, the developers still made out. After spending $75k for the house and investing another $154k, they sold it quickly for $279k. Profit = $50k. I’d also venture a guess that the neighbors made out, too, with a bump in property values.
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