2nd Worcester Senate
Mesfin: My name is Mesfin Beshir. I’m running for Second Worcester District State Senate, which includes Worcester Districts 5, 6, 7, and 8, few areas, and also urban Shrewsbury, Grafton, Leicester, and Upton, and Northbridge Precincts 2 and 4. I’m originally from Ethiopia. I’m not a politician. I’m an ordinary man. I came here as a young man, 17 years old, and have been in Worcester for the last 26 years, and thank you for having me and giving me the opportunity be here today, too.
Rich: Do you think you’ll get extra credit just for having all the precincts and districts memorized [laughter]. That’s an awful lot to just remember.
Mesfin: Thank you.
Rich: All right, so I’m looking up there and I think I see moving around. Do I –
Doug: Yeah. You want to start with that.
Rich: Sure, yeah.
Doug: You might [unintelligible 0:01:16].
Rich: Yes, so the first question that Sen. Moore is going to be answering is, is there any reason that a mandatory rent escrow law should not be passed? What do you see as the major obstacles to a mandatory rent escrow law and how can we overcome them?
Michael: I support the Rent Escrow Law. I’ve had several landlords within my district who have approached me on this over several years. I think the biggest hurdle to this is the common saying of preaching to the choir. I have again these landlords who are constantly bringing this up to me, advocating to me for the passage of this statute, and I agree with it.
I think what we’ve got to do is or what you got to do is you’ve got to start reaching out to the legislators who you know are opposed to this issue. I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to think that a landlord should have to go without having access to the rent. You’ve got bills to pay. You’ve got mortgages to pay.
Again, I think the strategy to getting this passed would be to consult. In January, there will be new chairmen or actually the same chairmen appointed to the various committees. I would see what committee – I think this went to the judiciary committee last year, so I would find out who is appointed to the judiciary committees – house and senate. I would meet with them, get their opinions on this bill to see if you get their support, or they’re in opposition to this, maybe see if there’s a rewording or drafting of this bill that might make it more amendable to them to pass or agreeable for them to pass, to push forward. But I think there’s got to be a concentration on targeting the legislators or the groups that are opposed to this, to the concept of this.
Again, I’ve been approached by several landlords in my district. I’ve been fully supportive of this issue in my 8 years in office. But I think what people forget is that you’ve got to get the people who do not support the issue, and I think the main thing is also reaching out to the committee chairmanships, the committee chairs to see if you can get them onboard in helping with drafting of a piece legislation that accomplishes your goals and also meets the needs that they have to accomplish in releasing the bill from committee.
Rich: That was a pretty nice-looking video, wasn’t it? That was Paul, our audiovisual wizard that we have. Let’s give Paul a round of applause [applause]. Okay, Mesfin, would you like me to repeat the question?
Mesfin: Yes, please.
Rich: Okay. Is there any reason a mandatory rent escrow law should not be passed and what do you see is the major obstacles to a mandatory rent escrow law and how can we overcome them?
Mesfin: Well, I prepared my statements, so I will read it for you my answers. At the same time also, I want a rebuttal with him what he said. Before I answer this question, I’ve been working for 9 years as a community nonprofit organization leader. I have been involved with the less fortunate among our community, at the same time with the landlords, trying to come in between both to facilitate for the poor at the same time keeping the interest of the landlords.
I’m a foot soldier. Probably Mr. Moore have been in power for 8 years, but I’ve been dealing with landlords and with the poor and the tenants for the last 9 years. I’ve been in courts to mediate between the landlords. I’m a poor person myself. I rent myself, but I have seen something the last year and I quit what I have been doing because of what I’ve been what’s going on to landlords.
We have too many people are homeless. The problem is that not we don’t have apartments or houses. The problem is we have people who are not responsible renting apartments and wrecking the property of landlords and the landlords have to go to court, spending $5,000, $6,000, $10,000 and the system, the judiciary system is not favoring the landlords.
To come to the answer, if the premises don’t meet the state’s sanitary code and the landlord wishes to evict the tenant, then the landlord should be required to give a written notice to the tenant. The escrow account also written to the tenant to give it to him stating that, writing that all rent must be paid to this account while any case is pending.
Since Mr. Moore is not here, as I said landlords have been suffering, have been in court many times. I have landlords, which I work with, $10,000. That’s like a person who works Dunkin’ Donuts gets per year, and this people are renting apartment. Because they don’t have the money to pay rent, they break the windows, they break the door, and sometimes they paint things on the wall and say there is lead. Sometimes they claim discrimination.
I think, no offense, I’m a straightforward guy, the Democratic party was enabling the poor not to be responsible and accountable for themselves. That’s the problem, so we need judiciary reform, too. It’s not only to make the tenants responsible, also the judge. If somebody cannot pay the rent, how a person who owns the building can pay his mortgage? It’s absurd.
I’m a renter myself. I take that property as if it is my own. That’s where I live. That’s where my children live. That’s where my wife lives. If I’m not responsible taking care of that building, I shouldn’t have the right to be in that building. That’s the way I believe [applause].
Rich: I have two vacant apartments I’m going to tell you about after this if you’re looking for something [laughter]. It sounds like you’ve seen both sides of it.
Rich: That definitely gives you a perspective that a lot of people don’t have, so it sounds like you would be to summarize, you’d be in favor of a rent escrow law being mandatory. Is that correct?
Mesfin: In a way in how I say it is I want to favor the landlords, the law which supports the landlords. The reason why as I said I have been in renting and going to court, and by the way 9 years, I’ve been supporting this agency without pay 9 years, no pay. That’s how I came to understand that the landlords are losing a lot, so the law should be amended in support of the landlords. That’s how I see it.
Rich: How long did you work for the agency before you realized they weren’t going to pay you?
Mesfin: Well, that’s one of the problems. The system is designed in general, including Mr. Moore, to be in power because that’s the way how I see it. They might talk the talk. I’m not going to tell you what you like to hear or which you love to hear. I’m going to tell you what you don’t like to hear because if I tell you what you don’t like to hear, that helps you to understand or to take care of things before that happens.
Mr. Moore is going to tell you everything, but tomorrow, he’s supporting those people who are making life like a hell for you, guys. That’s how I see it.
Rich: Mr. Moore, would you like to have any rebuttal to that [laughter]? I take that as a no. Our next question is, is the financial burden placed on landlords by the move and store law in Massachusetts necessary? What alternative approaches would you consider?
Mesfin: I support the move –
Rich: Hold that thought.
Doug: We have the video.
Rich: I was asking the invisible man sitting to your left.
Michael: I think it’s kind of a double-edged sword here. In some ways, I think it’s necessary; in some ways, I think it’s unnecessary. I do realize the burden that’s placed upon the landlords that when you have a tenant that is evicted, when they’re evicted, they take the property with them of any value and they leave the material that has very little value for you to have to place in storage. But there are going to be those circumstances where that does not occur, so I think we’ve got to find a balance and maybe if you look at it at best practices from across the country what other states are doing in relation to this issue, and then try to see what we can come up for a compromise here in Massachusetts to make this more friendly to both landlords and to the tenant.
Also, as an option, which I don’t know if this can be done now or not but maybe trying to allow the security deposit to be accessed by the landlords to cover some of these costs, so I mean everyone has to collect a security deposit if the landlord can retain that deposit until after the period of time that you have to secure their items. If the individual does not come back and collect it or you cannot retain your costs, maybe the security deposit could be used to compensate you for your losses.
Rich: Mesfin, go ahead here.
Mesfin: Well, I support the move and store requirements on landlords as an option that tenants can choose the time when they move in to their apartment provided that the tenant pays an additional fee, which I have been doing with some of the tenants I have. When they move in, some of them are the most least fortunate people. They can pay additional fee on top of the monthly rent, additional fee like option, I support requiring landlords to give a written notice to their tenants that this option is available for them. That means if you are not able to pay and you cannot afford it, I’m not going to store it for you 6 months, several months. Some of them is trash. Anyway, good people, decent people they don’t leave their property in some – I would never leave my stuff, which I have in the apartment I rented.
It’s a burden for landlords, collecting all this trash. The court tells them, “Well, you have to store it over here and you have to pay $150 every month.” No. Before they move in, the landlord can have an option, so in case this happens, they can add additional fee. As I said, the judiciary system is not right in favor of the landlords. It’s not. I have been 9 years in courts. I tell the truth as it is. I’m impartial. I’m poor myself, too. Anyway, it’s not that I’m compassionate, humanitarian towards the poor but I’m just and upright and you cannot make poor people richer by taking from those people who have more. You can’t do that. That’s where I stand, so an option to pay an extra fee every month in case that happens. I give the option for move and store and move.
Rich: Very interesting idea. As Sen. Moore mentioned, the security deposit could be used to help pay for the storage, the security deposit is long gone at this point.
Rich: If we move somebody out and we’re getting a share of the moving truck –
Rich: That was absorbed a long time ago by lost rent, so the security deposit alone will not be the solution to that. Moving on to the –
Mesfin: The other thing is that if the tenant doesn’t agree with extra fee for the storage, then 1-month rent should be added as an option, too, to pay for the store, and only 1 month the property should be stored, not more than 1 month.
Rich: Now we’re talking.
Rich: All right. Yeah. There are definitely some logistical other legal hurdles with charging extra fees or charging more money at move-in, but yeah 1 month would be better than 3. Our next question, this would be for Sen. Moore first, will be, should we give landlords the absolute right to subdivide their own properties?
Michael: I have to say yes and no on this. If you’re a landlord and you have a piece of property that’s in a residential area that’s solely residential and you want to just subdivide it into a multifamily house, I don’t know if that’s really fitting or appropriate to the abutters. I would always try to put myself in that situation, but I do feel that if – I know that the zoning legislation that we’ve looked to passing, that the Senate did pass, one thing we did within A, approved and not required, was to allow for in-law apartments. I think that should be allowed. I don’t know if you’ve looked back to the core of what we’re looking at here – families and housing. I don’t think there should be any issue or any reason why a local zoning board or planning board should be able to stop someone from putting in an in-law apartment for their family member.
Rich: All right, Mesfin, would you like me to repeat the question?
Rich: Okay. My answer is yes except the word, give landlords. I think we should use like recognize, the word rather than give because owning a property is inherent right, that’s the core value. You own the property. That’s your right. You can do whatever you want to do. I think that’s the Constitution, I guess says that except the word give should not be used. The right is inherent in that owning a property and the sole word, recognize, is better.
Also subdivision of properties lowers rental costs and this reduces the risk of homelessness. We may not have a lot of homeless people. But there should be another option if we do that, off-street parking may not be easy, so there should be a requirement that if we intend to do that to subdivide probably there should be something attached to parking for those tenants, but I believe it is your right. It is your natural right. If you have property, you own it, you can do whatever you want to do. That’s what I believe.
Rich: It sounds good to me. The parking is an issue because that’s the sort of thing that could adversely affect the neighborhood or the public by having too many cars.
Rich: That makes a lot of sense. It sounds like as long as it’s not hurting anybody else –
Rich: Let them do what they want with their property.
Mesfin: That’s right. That’s your right. You own it.
Rich: I think that’s how it’s supposed to work, yeah [laughter]. All right, so our next question, that is going to go to Sen. Moore first, how can we get a long-term plan for highway and rail infrastructure that gives Worcester access to Boston jobs and Boston access to Worcester’s housing?
Michael: Well, I think we’ve already had a lot of success on that. If you’ll look at the last years from the Patrick-Murray administration where we were increasing the amount of trains coming in from Worcester to Boston, I think we’re moving in the right direction in doing that. I think the ultimate goal that we have to do is create more of an economic base here in Worcester so that rather than having our workforce want to leave Worcester and go to Boston for their jobs, we want to have it in the reverse. This has always been one of my big concerns about increasing the commuter rail from Worcester to Boston is we’ve got our workforce leaving here every day going to Boston.
I’d much rather see it be the other way, so I think what we need to do is we need to try to find a way to continue to stimulate the job growth here in Worcester. You know we’ve had a lot of success in some of the major fields industries here in Massachusetts from education to life sciences to biotech, and I think we continue on that. We can try to get a shift in more of the workforce coming here. We have a lot of attributes here where the housing is a lot cheaper and more efficient, less costly here in Worcester than it is in Boston. I think it’ a lot more attractive.
Mesfin: I like fast trains, probably as a joke. We need like a French style or Japanese style trains. It sounds terrific. I support the faster trains, which is from Worcester to Boston or anywhere else, but how are we going to do that is the issue. The taxes are higher in this state, so however, it should not be obtained by raising taxes. It’s already the taxes are higher in this state. Because the taxes are higher, the state debt already over $13,000 per person or per child in this state, so further to be in debt should be regarded with caution. I would like to see how we’re going to get the faster trains or how the taxes, how are we going to make it available should be considered and not by raising taxes on people to do all things, what we want. But I enjoy and I like faster trains; however not only from Boston to Worcester even to Auburn, Upton, Leicester, wherever they can make it. I’m for it.
Rich: All right. I’m not sure what the demand is for people to looking for fast trains to Leicester, but –
Mesfin: I’m just –
Rich: But it sounds like it would be fun.
Mesfin: It would be fun.
Rich: It would be a good fun.
Mesfin: That’s what I’m trying to say, whatever it is.
Mesfin: I support it but not with taxing people. Already the taxes are higher in this state.
Rich: I’m too far away to kiss you [laughter].
Mesfin: Thank you.
Rich: But I agree with that. All right, so we are going to ask Sen. Moore the next question. We’re going to be moving to the quicker questions here. It looks like we’re right on time. Should landlords be allowed to charge late fee if the rent is not paid on the 1st?
Michael: I think anyone should be able to charge a late fee, but I would have to say I think it would have to be within a certain amount of days to give it a definitive date of the 1st, I would much rather see some sort of leeway where between the 1st and if they have until 5 days after the date of the billing, just the way we have today with I know it’s called snail mail, but some people still do use it or if there is some reason that someone is late by 1 day or 2 days, I don’t think it’s really appropriate for a late fee to be charged at that point. But I think we could determine a period of time that if a tenant has not paid, that the landlord should have access to charging a fee.
Mesfin: Well, I agree, and what I do is you pay the rent between the 1st and the 5th, when we signed the agreement with the tenant and landlords, examine it. After the 5th if you don’t pay, there is a late fee. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last 9 years and the landlords deserve the agreement probably from $20 to $50 late fee. That’s what I support and favor.
Rich: If there a bill that came along to change the 30-day rule down to 5 days, that’s something that you would vote for?
Rich: All right, terrific. The next question goes to Sen. Moore first. Should the threshold for lead poisoning be reduced from 25 micrograms per deciliter, mcg/dl, to 10 mcg/dl even if it increases the caseload by 10 times?
Michael: Whether it increases the caseload by 10 times or 100 times, the issue that we should be looking is what level is going to be deemed to be harmful to the individual living in that household, living in that space, so that should be the overriding factor. The caseload should not be issue; the issue should be public health and mitigating any sort of potential danger to the people living in that residence.
Mesfin: Yeah, let’s say as a landlord I think you bear responsibility not to rent for children if there is lead in the building. I think that’s common sense, not for some other things. Just if you have a document that said there is lead and until otherwise we fix this problem then we are not going to rent for children under this age, I think it’s fair but knowingly to rent apartment which has lead, with the limit, which they said I’m not an expert in mathematics, but then you bear responsibility. As he said, public health, if somebody is sick, I feel sick too is somebody feels sick. It doesn’t matter who it is. I believe in the first place, renting apartment to children, the apartment with lead is not right, so that’s my precaution. That’s what I believe.
Rich: It sounds like you would be in favor of changing the law because right now it is not legal for landlords to turn away or to base their decision to rent an apartment or not rent an apartment to families based upon the presence of lead.
Rich: Right now there are actual huge fines for doing that, so it sounds like you’re in favor of changing the law.
Mesfin: That’s correct.
Mesfin: There is one thing I’m going to tell you. Something happened because of my work. I took a training. They call it legal aid. The training I took was how landlords discriminate people, so they train you and then you have to go out, snoop on our landlords to see if they’re going to discriminate you and this and that. I’m just going to be honest with you, after I took the training, I said I can’t do this work. The reason why is I have been as I said helping the poor and the landlords, so in a way that even government sometimes tried to trap landlords. That’s doesn’t right. That’s what exactly I said is sometimes changing the laws is much better because of all the complaining, this and that and that. They’re trying to make you lose your buildings without you knowing it.
Rich: It happens.
Rich: Somebody’s fines can definitely put somebody out of business. All right, Mike, is it fair to fine a landlord $35,000 for discrimination? It kind of went right into that one.
Michael: That depends on the degree of the offense. One of the – I don’t say maybe beauty is not the word of it – but one of the issue is the judges are always advocating to the legislature about maintaining not having mandatory minimums on mandatory sentences, is it allows them to have discretion. This way if you have a case where maybe that $35,000 isn’t even in the picture. It could just be a $1,000 or it could be a smaller penalty, but there’s the issue where there could be some case of discrimination that’s an incongruous offense. I’m going to have to say it would all depend upon the offense that’s brought before the judge.
Mesfin: My answer to that is discrimination in any form is abhorrent. That’s the way I see it. We all are human beings. We all have the same wants. We have the same needs. As we care for ourselves, we should care for others, for our children, for our grandchildren. We have mothers. We have fathers. We have brothers and sisters, so discrimination at any form is abhorrent, but as a judgement should be based on the case by case. If I want to rent an apartment and somebody says, “You are black. I don’t want to rent an apartment for you,” that’s absurd. But anyway it’s not prejudice or discrimination. It’s very hard. It’s very hard. “Oh, you’re a woman. I can’t rent apartment.” That’s absurd but it should be based on case by case rather than saying. “If you discriminate a woman, you pay $10, but if you discriminate a black person, pay $1,000.” It’s not right, so it should be case by case.
Rich: It sounds like you agree with Sen. Moore on that.
Rich: What about everything in moderation? What if you just discriminate like occasionally like – I’m just kidding. I’m totally kidding.
Mesfin: We all have biases. We all have biases. I have biases. But the way I believe is how I’m going to tell you, growing up in my own country, I was raised by Catholic missionaries since I was 5 years old. I went to seminary. I was the poorest of the poor. Because of those great people missionaries, my life so they have taught me to value humanity not based on other things. A just opportunity for all of us, and we bear responsibility for ourselves, for our family, and for our neighbors, for our community. That’s what should be the relationship between landlords and tenants based on oneness, and just, and being upright people to one another.
Rich: Nothing wrong with that. Should a landlord who acted in good faith be fined three times the amount of security deposit because they made a paperwork error? Mike?
Michael: No, this basically goes back to the question I just answered. It should be looked at if you are acting in good faith and made a mistake, treble damages should not be in the calculation. Now if you have someone who you can show that there was not good faith and there was a deliberate intent to violate the statue or violate this law, yes then treble damages may be appropriate. But treble damages should not be something that should just be assessed just for a minor violation.
I think again if you look at any law we have in the books, intent and acting in good faith should always be something that’s weighed and that’s the whole point in giving someone discretion is that they can weigh the conduct, they can weigh the individual’s intent and what they were trying to do. I guess long story short, treble damages should not be assessed for someone who is acting in good faith.
Mesfin: I agree with him
Rich: Terrific. It’s unusual that we get short answers to questions, but you know what I think that’s well said and sufficient [laughter]. In our last minute if you’d like to take a moment and talk about your candidacy. If there’s anything else you’d like to add regarding these issues or anything else, please take a moment and face the group.
Mesfin: Thank you very much for inviting me. Those are the things, opportunity is the only thing I ask for anybody should ask and also thank you for listening to me. I’m not a politician. I’m just an ordinary young man who have family, who have children. I care about old people. My time in this country has been helping the less fortunate. I learned a lot of things for the last 26 years. I want to make Worcester and our district a better place to live for family, for children with love and compassion to one another and to be just, to be upright, and to lift people up. We cannot make the poor rich by taking money from the rich. We can’t make the poor rich by taking money from the rich. I prefer lower taxes. I like to make education better for our children. Today, I’m here because of the goodness of people who educated me back in my country and here.
Also public safety – I want my children, my wife, and my neighborhood to live in a neighborhood where there is peace and they are able to walk on the streets. Those are the things I stand for public safety. I don’t like drug dealers. I don’t like pimps. I don’t like murderers, rapists. Those are the issues that I stand. Education also, I want to educate my kid the school where he can have a better education. I don’t want to send my kids somewhere that he can learn using foul language to myself and to the neighbors or to anybody else, so I support the school choice to our children and also government cannot make or teach family value, only religious institution. So all social services should be given with religious institutions rather than corrupt agencies in our towns, in our districts who are supported by some politicians, which I’m not going to name names. Thank you very much.
Rich: State Senate candidate Mesfin Beshir and by video Michael Moore [applause].