I spend a lot of time in Boston Housing Court, both as part of my practice and as a volunteer at the Attorney for the Day table nobly run by the Volunteer Lawyer’s Project. Through both of these roles I’ve had the opportunity to speak with innumerable landlords, and I’ve discovered that over and over again landlords as a group make the same two mistakes: they never learn the law, and they don’t operate like a business. Fortunately, there’s a single resource that can go a long way towards solving both these problems for a Massachusetts landlord.
The first problem: landlords don’t know the law. I can’t tell you how many landlords I’ve spoken with who rent rooms, rent apartments, rent buildings, take security deposits, and attempt to evict tenants without ever making any effort to familiarize themselves with the relevant laws.
Massachusetts has some of the most tenant-friendly housing laws in the country, and a good-faith mistake as simple as putting a security deposit in a standard savings account can result in large damage awards and possibly larger attorney fee awards. Even worse, such a good-faith mistake may provide a tenant with a valid defense to eviction, even in the case of nonpayment. As such, a landlord who is ignorant of the law risks putting themselves in the unenviable situation of being unable to evict a tenant, even if there is rent owed or they have rejected a rent increase.
The takeaway: landlords really have to know the law, because there are any number of pitfalls awaiting for those who don’t.
The second problem: landlords don’t operate as a business. Clearly, this doesn’t apply (as often) to landlords who use a professional property management company to operate and maintain their properties, but it is incredibly common among landlords who own a limited number or units or a single rental property. The other way of looking at this problem is that landlords frequently take things too personally.
This problem is largely an outgrowth of the first problem, that landlords don’t know the law. For example, many landlords don’t know that renting out a property means giving up the legal right to enter the property whenever they want. To the landlord who doesn’t know the law, it’s their property, and they can go on it whenever they like, it’s not just an asset with a net value that will either appreciate or depreciate, and that the tenant now has the sole legal right to possess. The upshot is that the landlord who doesn’t operate their property like a business puts themselves in a position to react personally to an issue with a tenant, do something that they don’t know is illegal, and get themselves into a lot of hot water.
For Massachusetts landlords though, there’s a single resource that goes a long way towards solving both these problems, and it’s a publication by the Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance called “The Successful Landlord.” More a workbook than a textbook, it walks a landlord through the process of buying a property, preparing it for rental, initial leasing, ongoing maintenance, and eviction. It may not have everything that a current or prospective landlord needs, and it may not replace a good landlord/tenant attorney, but it’s thorough, it’s readable, and it gives landlords a tremendous base of knowledge and the forms necessary to go out an implement what they’ve learned. In the end, it’s the single best written resource out there for the Massachusetts landlords, it’s something that I recommend all landlords get their hands on and read cover to cover, and it’s something that I provide to every new landlord I work with.
The book can be purchased directly from the CMHA here for a mere $44.00, all of which is tax deductible. Shipping is included and in my experience it comes within about a week.
(Before anyone asks, this is a completely unsolicited endorsement. I just think everybody needs this book.)