|KNOW YOUR RIGHTS:BAD LANDLORDS Common Boston landlord scams and how to deal with them / by Ethan Ethan|
I moved into my first collective house in the fall of 2010. At first, the house seemed ideal: it was in a great part of Inman Square, there were enough rooms for all eight of our roommates, there were hardwood floors, the kitchen was big, and most of all it had a perfect, spacious stoop.
as the state plumbing and electrical codes when installing plumbing,
heating and electric facilities and appliances and must maintain them
free from leaks and obstructions [410.351]".
If you feel your landlord is trying to hold you accountable for a repair that they should be making, a good place to look is the state sanitary code. Anything that is in violation of the state sanitary code is your landlord’s responsibility to fix. In addition to these types of lease clauses being invalid, they are also illegal under section 93a of the Consumer Protection Act, which entitles you to three times any damages you suffer from complying with any illegal lease clause. If you decide to bring up the law with your landlord make sure to mention section 93a of the consumer protection act. They know what it is. 93a covers many unfair practices including issues around security deposits. (Getting a 3 security deposit checks back is pretty cool, right?). Do some research (or ask a lawyer) and find out if your issue is covered under Massachusetts' consumer protection act and what you need to do to receive such protection.
HEAT AND WATER SCAMS
Another common theft is heat and water. Unless your apartment has it's own meter, then heat and water is your landlords financial responsibility. Your landlord can't force you to pay for instance, one-quarter of the water for your four-unit building. There are a few other requirements for charging for water including that every shower needs to be equipped with a low flow showerhead.
OTHER ILLEGAL FEES: IMPROVEMENTS, NOISE, ETC.
While some Landlords try to get you to pay for upkeep and improvements on their houses, others will simply charge you illegal fees. If your landlord asks for a rental fee or a cleaning fee to move in, this is illegal. The best way to deal with this is to pay any fees that are required for move in and then deduct them from your next rent payment with a note saying that you found out the fees were illegal. At this point you've moved in and your landlord will have a hard time evicting you for taking your money back on an illegal fee. Fees for late rent (pre-30 days late) are illegal, though your landlord could in theory attempt to evict you for paying rent even one day late. Your landlord also isn't allowed to fine you for things like being on the roof or making too much noise. Don't let your landlord act as if they are the courts or law enforcement. While most fees are illegal, your landlord may charge you a fee for changing the locks and keys (if they do so).
GETTING REPAIRS MADE
ceilings, roof, staircases, porches, chimneys, and other structural elements of
his dwelling so that the dwelling excludes wind, rain and snow, and is rodent-
proof, watertight and free from chronic dampness, weathertight, in good repair
and in every way fit for the use intended. Further, he shall maintain every
structural element free from holes, cracks, loose plaster, or other defect where
such holes, cracks, loose plaster or defect renders the area difficult to keep clean
or constitutes an accident hazard or an insect or rodent harborage."
Once you establish that a repair you need is a code violation, politely bring up to your landlord that the issue is indeed a code violation and their responsibility to fix in a timely manner.
If the repairs continue to not happen you have several options.
If you are serious about getting a repair done (and not so serious about your landlord liking you or being a good reference to future landlords), call inspectional services and request an inspection: 617-635-5300. The city of Boston will inspect your house and notify the landlord of any issues that need to be fixed. Once code violations are documented you can also legally rent strike or make the repairs yourself and deduct them from your rent (up to the value of 4 months rent). If you choose to withhold all or a portion of your rent, notify your landlord that your are doing so until the repairs are made. Be prepared to actually pay the back rent once the repairs are made. Try negotiating with your landlord to knock a few bucks off your rent for living in a house with code violations.
An alternative to this is simply paying someone out of pocket to make the repairs, sending your landlord the receipts, and deducting the amount from the rent. In these situation (and all other similar ones) all communication with your landlord should be written (email is easy). If your landlord has your phone number, don't pick up and instead email or text them saying you can't talk on the phone. You can make up a vague excuse like you're at work or sick. Not only does this make your life easier in that you don't need to listen to your angry landlord yell at you on the phone for half an hour, but it also provides provable records in case your landlord says anything illegal. Both these steps are very aggressive tactics and it may be worth contacting a lawyer to make sure you are doing everything right.
In Massachusetts, it is illegal to retaliate or threaten to retaliate against tenants in any way for asserting any legal rights they have including contacting inspectional services or withholding rent. The penalty for a landlord doing so is a fine to the tenants of between 1 and 3 months rent or damages if they are higher.
It is still retaliation if directly after you assert your rights your landlord threatens to evict you for unrelated issues. For example if you called inspectional services and a week later you get an eviction notice for having a messy yard, this is retaliation. In fact, if you can document a complaint about living conditions such as a call to inspectional services in court, any attempt at eviction within six months of such complaint is considered to be retaliatory unless the landlord can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it is unrelated to your complaints.
While oftentimes you can scare your landlord into complying with your demands by citing the laws and saying “my (nonexistent) lawyer has advised me that...”, if you think there is any chance an issue will end up in court, it's definitely a good idea to contact a real lawyer. While knowing the laws is a great first step, knowing how to navigate the court system is oftentimes much harder.
USING COMMON SENSE
While knowing the laws can help you in a lot of situations, it's usually best to use them as a last resort. It's far easier for everyone if you and your landlord have a good relationship, and jumping straight to the state sanitary code when you could've just asked nicely probably isn't a winning strategy.
In Boston many people are under year leases or month-to-month leases. Your landlord is under no obligation to continue renting to you after the terms of your lease are up, so if you plan on staying in your home past when your lease entitles you to, asserting your rights strongly lowers your chances of staying where you are. Trying to get minor repairs like a leaky faucet fixed might cause you and your roommates more trouble than you want to deal with.
In all landlord interactions, be sure to think through all the possible ways of addressing the issue as well as all the possible outcomes. Decide before hand if you are willing/able to go to court, and what level of energy you and your housemates have for dealing with such issues.
There is far more to learn about tenant’s rights. Collectively we can force those who profit off of our survival to actually deliver their end of the bargain.
Shout out to Allston-State Sanitary code 410.550 for mice, rats, and bedbugs.
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