Landlord Cheat Sheet

What You Need to Know Right Now

If you’re new to the business, here’s a landlord cheat sheet with the most common gotchas. The advice here is a generalization for all landlords and is conservative. If you have two units or fewer, or if you live in the building, or if you are elderly, you may be granted waivers from certain requirements.

  • Lead paint
    • Catch-22:
      • Children under six cannot live in an apartment without a deleading certificate.
      • If you don’t have a deleading certificate you cannot tell a family with children to go away.
    • You must deal with the lead.
    • You cannot scrape, strip, sand or otherwise release lead into the environment.
    • For all practical purposes, you must either be trained as a moderate risk deleader or hire a professional.
  • Evictions
    • If you pick the wrong tenant or screw up the process, eviction will take you up to six months and $10,000. (The most we’ve ever seen was $46,247.95 on September 26, 2014 for a property in Middleboro.)
    • On average, evictions take a couple months and $3,000.
    • You must approach each piece of paperwork like you’re dancing a ballet. If your timing is off, the show is over and you may have to start over.
    • You must hire a real attorney to represent you if you are an LLC, a corporation, trust, or anything other than a sole proprietor landlord. Add this to the costs above.
    • You will have to pay to move and store anything they leave in the apartment for three months at a third party facility. This includes trash. Add this to the costs.
    • If an ex-tenant receives public assistance you cannot collect any money from them even if a judge decrees that they owe you a million dollars.
    • You should do everything you can to pick a good person for a tenant.
    • You should do everything you can to resolve disputes outside of court.
    • Tenant screening is the most important thing you can do.
    • You cannot lock out a tenant or shut off any utilities during an eviction.
  • Discrimination
    • You cannot decline an application because someone is a protected class.
    • You should choose tenants on economic qualifications only.
    • You should treat everyone fairly.
    • You should keep a paper trail of your decisions and interactions.
  • Sanitary code
    • Your apartments must meet minimum standards for habitability
    • Minimum standards in Massachusetts are nicer than a third world slum.
    • You should keep your apartments nicer than a slum and in working order.
    • If a tenant calls the board of health on you, you cannot evict for six months no matter what.
    • If a tenant stops paying rent because your apartment is a slum, you should take immediate steps to go above and beyond to repair the defects and everything else. Otherwise the tenant may employ the “free rent” trick.
  • Fees
    • You cannot charge application fees, pet fees, or any kind of move-in fee except for changing locks.
    • The only money you can collect prior to move in is first, last and security.
    • You cannot charge more than one month’s rent as security.
    • You cannot charge extra security for pets.
    • You cannot charge a late fee except after 30 days, by which time you should already be in court for eviction.
  • Security Deposit
    • You cannot mingle security deposits with your own money.
    • You must pay interest annually at either 5%/yr or whatever you actually get from the bank.
    • You must actually pay interest even if it’s only 46 cents. Tell them the amount and have them reduce their rent check that month.
    • You cannot withhold for electrical or plumbing repairs done by anyone other than a licensed professional.
    • You cannot withhold for any repairs if the tenant did not sign a statement of conditions at move-in.
    • If you screw up any of this or any of a dozen other things, you must pay the tenant three times the amount of their entire deposit.

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