Q: How has becoming a Realtor contributed to your work as a property manager?
Rich: Becoming a Real Estate agent has made me more aware of the laws surrounding rentals and the issues regarding purchasing rental properties. The things I’ve learned by becoming a Realtor, along with the knowledge I get from MassLandlords, has definitely made me more in tune with building codes which has improved my methods as a landlord.
Q: What advice would you give to those thinking about becoming a landlord?
Rich: First of all, join MassLandlords! Investors in properties must remember it’s a business no matter the number of units you own. You have to run your properties like you would any other business and treat your tenants like clients, not tenants. Cater to your customers; they’re the ones making it possible for you to even have that property. As a Realtor I personally buy a one year MassLandlords membership for anyone I work for as a buyer’s agent when purchasing investment property because a lot of the knowledge they’ll need is available for them through MassLandlords.
Q: What is one of the most common issues you’ve faced as a landlord?
Rich: Tenant screening can be an issue. As a landlord, you must be careful not to discriminate either intentionally or unintentionally, but lead paint laws are the bigger issue. Massachusetts has a lot of old multi-family homes with lead paint. It’s very costly to de-lead a property even though there are state financed programs that you can enroll in. Those programs often take a very long time to complete so in that time you could lose tenants while trying to achieve compliance.
Q: How do you think the passing of recreational marijuana will affect property managers?
Rich: Tenants need to better understand the laws surrounding legal marijuana. I believe tenants will think, just because its legal, they’ll be able to smoke in their apartment, grow as much of their own product as possible and quite possibly try to distribute. If it’s a non-smoking building they must understand you still cannot smoke pot there. In my mind, it should be treated like alcohol; you can’t have a micro-brewery in your apartment so they can’t do whatever they want just because pot is legal. The biggest difficulty will probably be getting tenants to understand that they’ll have to find another place to smoke if they live in a non-smoking building.
Q: Can you tell me about a local ordinance that has made it difficult for you to conduct your business?
Rich: There is an ordinance which states that landlords cannot rent to more than four unrelated people in one unit. For example, if I had a four-bedroom home near a university, in theory I could put two students in each room comfortably and be collecting rent from eight students. However, because of this ordinance, I could only rent to four students. This makes it difficult, especially for those investors who mostly rent to college students.
Q: Heat and smoke detectors are essential to keeping properties up to code, what has been your experience with this?
Rich: This part of the safety code can be complicated because it’s never consistent. The state’s code differs from the local code and the compliance factors vary between single and multi-family buildings. Another factor they consider is the age of the building and whether it’s had any certain renovations. It really comes down to two things: the mandates of the local fire chief and what the inspector thinks is acceptable. The fact that this part of the safety code is not standardized is very annoying.
Q: When did you join WPOA and what kinds of changes have you seen in that time?
Rich: I joined about eight years ago and its grown a lot. WPOA started out as a smaller group of about 150 members with 30 to 40 landlords showing up at our monthly meetings. Now, meeting attendance ranges from 75 to 100 people. We’ve moved to a bigger and better venue, membership has increased, the networking is better and so is the education. Overall, the progress that’s been made has received a very positive response.
Q: What is your hope for MassLandlords?
Rich: My hope is that we can become more effective with our lobbying and have more influence on legal matters. I think we could even the playing field between tenants and landlords. Right now, the laws are more in favor of the tenant and some landlords are hurting because tenants are able to take advantage of them using the current system.