By Kimberly Rau, MassLandlords Writer
It was around a quarter past 10 on Tuesday, Jan. 5, when the eviction hearing between Dawn and Dale McGuire and their tenants, Alicia Floyd and Tim Connors, began. The hearing was taking place more than nine months after the landlords had served their tenants a notice to quit and started the eviction process, due to the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing eviction moratorium.
In that time, the McGuires had received no rent from Floyd and Connors, a fact both parties confirm. Reasons for why the rent went unpaid vary depending on whom you ask. For instance, Dawn McGuire alleges her tenants were gaming the system and refusing to pay rent or vacate the premises. Floyd and Connors argue that their landlords were ignoring important upkeep on the house, including major issues with the pipes.
Things weren’t always this fraught between landlord and tenant. Both parties agree that things started out fine. Floyd and Connors, her fiancé, started renting the house at 139 Homestead Ave., in Rehoboth, in 2018, and were happy to do so. For McGuire’s part (all below references to McGuire in this story refer to Dawn, unless otherwise noted), she agreed to rent to the couple instead of any of the multiple other interested parties because she, like Floyd, had a child in the local school system and knew the importance of such matters.
So what went so wrong? Both parties agree that things started to go south in February 2020, but that’s also where the differences in perspective between landlord and tenant get very stark. McGuire claims that as a result of the lost rent, she and her family were forced to sell the home they were living in and move into a camper on the rental property. Floyd and Connors see it differently, claiming their landlords cooked in the camper in question but were otherwise living in a pool house larger than the rental home itself.
In this article, we’ll be telling the same story twice, first from McGuire’s perspective, then from Floyd’s and Connors’ points of view. At the end, things will circle back to the outcome of the aforementioned court date.
Dale McGuire, an engineer with Keolis, a company contracted with the MBTA, did not speak directly to MassLandlords for this story, though he is one of the property owners and was present at the court hearing.
Some basic facts (that both parties agree on or that are matters of public record)
According to public records, Dawn and Dale McGuire purchased the property in question in 2009. Floyd said that before she and her fiancé began renting the house, relatives of the McGuires were in residence.
Both McGuire and Floyd have stated that at the time of lease signing, the McGuires were clear that they intended to do some construction on the large pool house in the backyard. The McGuires also made it known that the rental house, a small ranch, had some issues with drafty windows and the washing machine not being connected to the septic system. They informed their prospective tenants that they were not planning to fix the issues, since the long-term goal was to tear the house down and live in the pool house, which was on track to be the McGuires’ “forever home.”
The landlord’s story
In October 2019, Floyd’s and Connor’s lease had expired. But, McGuire said, both parties were fine with continuing the tenancy on a month-to-month basis, since the construction on the pool house wasn’t complete yet. In November 2019, the rent was late, but paid during the month. In December, the rent for that month didn’t show up until January. January’s rent was paid in February, and February’s rent didn’t show up at all.
“Then I asked for the rent [for February] and they got hostile,” McGuire told MassLandlords.
She served them a 14-day notice to quit for nonpayment in February 2020.
“From that point on, that was it,” she said. “[Floyd] basically told us, ‘You’ll get your rent when you get us into court.” It was February when her tenants also contacted the Board of Health (BOH) about the aforementioned issues in the house, which was a ploy, she said, to not have to pay rent. Nevertheless, McGuire said, she and Dale provided their tenants with putty and a knife to fix the windows, and contacted the BOH about the washing machine, which had never been hooked up to the septic system and was draining grey water into the yard.
The BOH told McGuire that she could not simply remove the washing machine, as it was present when the lease began and could not be taken away without being replaced. When McGuire explained that overhauling the aging septic system to accommodate the additional burden from the washer would cost $30,000 and was not something she was prepared to do, she said the BOH advised her to remove the washing machine or cap the line and give the tenants a rent credit.
“One ploy after another to not pay rent”
During all of this, after the McGuires received their letter from the BOH but before capping the line to the washing machine, McGuire said her tenants complained of water in the basement. She said Dale spent two days checking for problems, having the septic system pumped, cleaning pipes and bleaching toilets and sinks.
Three days later, she said, Floyd and Connors reported the problem was happening again. This time, when Dale went back in, he found cardboard and cigarette boxes shoved in the pipes. This issue was reported to MassLandlords by McGuire and also entered into testimony on January 5. McGuire also claims her tenants re-installed the washing machine, which she discovered when she saw water coming out of the side of the house. McGuire states she had to get a temporary restraining order to enter the house and remove the washing machine entirely, and got permission to conduct an inspection as well, whereupon she claims she learned her tenants had removed the smoke detectors.
And still, no rent was coming in.
“The first of the month will come and they won’t acknowledge it or pay a dime,” McGuire said.
In the summer, McGuire stated, her tenants complained about possible iron poisoning, claiming their toenails were turning yellow. A service call (one of many over the tenancy, according to McGuire) resulted in a high iron reading and a recommendation to flush and chlorinate the well, which the McGuires did, providing their tenants with both bottled water for drinking and barrels of water for washing in the meantime. And still, no rent came in.
“It was one ploy after another to not pay anything,” McGuire told MassLandlords.
Having served her tenants a 14-day notice to quit, McGuire had to take the next step in the eviction process and file with the court. She vividly recalls driving up to the court on March 16 and seeing a sign out front: The courts were closed. The entire state was entering the first phase of coronavirus lockdown.
That’s when things got really bad, according to McGuire. The McGuires had planned to wait until construction on the pool house was done before selling their home, but concerns about job security, combined with no rent on the rental property and a hot seller’s market, prompted them to sell their primary residence. Since Floyd and Connors had been telling the McGuires that they wanted to leave (according to McGuire), the landlords figured this would be the push their tenants needed. But that’s not what happened.
McGuire believes her tenants “hit the lottery” when the pandemic struck, and said she stopped thinking they would ever move out.
“They’re not going to go anywhere and pay rent...they’re not going to go anywhere else and live for free [like they are here],” she stated. The McGuires stayed in a hotel for a while, then eventually moved into a camper on the rental property, a literal stone’s throw away from their rental house, and the Floyd-Connors family. They had to get a court order, she said, to get a water hookup from the rental house to the trailer, and had to get an emergency pole from National Grid to have electricity to the camper.
“[My husband said], ‘I just don’t understand. It’s our house.’” McGuire said she called the governor’s office, which suggested they contact a lawyer. The McGuires didn’t see much use in that: The courts were closed, and there was an eviction moratorium in place. Instead, they sat tight through the summer and winter, waiting for their day in court. Mediations reportedly failed. McGuire struggled with keeping up with daily life in a camper, where everything from schoolwork to wireless internet was a challenge.
Further, McGuire said, her tenants are taunting her family. She claims Floyd and Connors set up their Christmas tree in a back window on purpose in order to rub it in that they had proper housing while she and her family lived in a camper. McGuire stated that, in person, Floyd acts intimidated by her, but then is aggressive over the phone or via electronic correspondence, and that her tenants have purchased new things for their house, all while not paying rent.
“We’re total victims of this pandemic,” McGuire said.
The tenants’ side
Floyd and Connors have a different view of things. Their side of the story paints a picture of a falling-down house, retaliatory landlords, and a pandemic that dried up their income and didn’t allow them to pay rent.
As stated previously, Floyd and Connors agree things started off fine. Floyd states they were happy to get into the house.
“Their intention was to knock this house down in three to five years, and that was perfect for us because we wanted two to three years to save money to buy a house,” Floyd told MassLandlords. “But we’ve had nothing but problems.”
Floyd and Connors agree on the timeline of the late rent. Small business owners, Floyd said she and Connors had a client miss a large payment for services, which started a snowball effect in December.
However, the issues that began in February of 2020 look different through Floyd’s and Connor’s eyes. First, Connors argued (both in court and later to MassLandlords) that the issue with the plumbing was not water in the basement, but sewage, and it happened during a time that family members were visiting.
As for the alleged sabotage after Dale came to address the issue, Floyd agrees that a few days later, the problem was back, but when asked about the cigarette boxes and other allegations of sabotaging the pipes, both were dumbstruck.
“That is so farfetched. That is the biggest lie,” Floyd said. “Why would we do that?”
Floyd stated that they contacted the Board of Health over the myriad water issues with the pipes. Multiple service calls had not fixed the problems.
“My hair had turned orange, my finger nails had turned orange...our dishwasher was coated, everything was coated in iron. I’ve lost favorite articles of clothing...and then we had the sewer backup.” Floyd also said there were concerns about mold in the house, and noted that after anyone showered, the tub had to be scrubbed from the residue left behind by the water. Things were getting untenable.
The McGuires received their letter from the Board of Health on Feb. 12, 2020. Six days later, Connors said, a notice to quit arrived.
In court, Connors called this move retaliatory. Floyd believes that the McGuires wanted them out so they could tear down their house and continue construction. They also stated that they had not agreed to fix the windows, and claimed their landlords’ allegation that the washing machine couldn’t be hooked up to the septic system was unfounded.
“I’m a contractor, I know,” Connors said. “Adding a washing machine will do nothing to tax the septic system.”
Floyd and Connors said that after so many issues, they were looking forward to finding a new place.
“And then COVID hit,” Floyd said. “We own a small business. We were forced to not work for a month, and then it was months before people would allow us into [their homes].”
“There was nothing for four months,” Connors confirmed. “Then it was a trickle...it’s been nothing but a struggle.” They applied for a business loan and were denied. They applied for RAFT but couldn’t receive it (editor’s note: this might be because their owed rent exceeded the maximum benefit allowed under RAFT). They said that McGuire denied their RAFT application as well. McGuire states that she did so because she believed that signing the RAFT form would forgive the rest of the rent owed not covered by RAFT, and render her unable to pursue eviction.
“We were in no position to get out during COVID financially,” Floyd stated, adding that having a pet dog made finding a new rental challenging even during good circumstances. But, Floyd added, they were also reluctant to pay rent because the house was plagued with issues.
Then, Floyd said, the McGuires sold their home for “top dollar” in the summer and moved not one but multiple campers onto the property to live and cook in. Construction ramped up, with more than 50 trees taken down in the yard, and multiple pieces of large construction equipment causing noise disturbance. The dust got so bad, they said, that Floyd’s daughter, who has asthma, had to go live with her father.
Floyd and Connors recognized that the McGuires chlorinated the well. However, they expressed suspicion that this solution to an ongoing, longtime problem was only ultimately done when the landlords were preparing to move back onto their property.
Floyd and Connors allege that the McGuires are exaggerating and that their landlords primarily live in the pool house, not a camper. They also stated they have had to call the police multiple times because their landlords harass them, including taking back the recycling bin they had been using and calling them up and yelling at them.
“They just want us out of here so they can knock this house down and build their house,” Floyd stated.
The eviction hearing
The court hearing played out essentially like the interviews did. The McGuires stated their tenants had not filed an affidavit with the CDC, and that they were seeking an eviction based on nonpayment of rent. Floyd and Connors stated that the eviction notice was an illegal retaliatory move and that they were not able to pay their rent. Judge Joseph Michaud attempted to keep things on track; at times, both parties were prone to tangents ruled irrelevant by the court. In one moment, it came to light that at some point in 2020 McGuire had attempted to take out a restraining order on a hot tub Floyd and Connors were keeping in the back yard. Floyd and Connors state that they were simply storing the tub back there and had never hooked it up or intended to use it. McGuire stated to MassLandlords later that she had attempted to take out the restraining order to get the hot tub removed and to also address an issue with a ripped-out ceiling in the mud room, but was denied.
The judge did not rule that day, instead waiting a few days to ultimately rule in favor of the landlords. When the CDC eviction moratorium expires, the McGuires can evict their tenants (possibly sooner if the tenants’ CDC affidavit is ruled invalid, pending the judge’s decision). Floyd and Connors are also on the hook for the missed rent and costs, in excess of $20,000.
On January 19, 2021, the McGuires, Floyd and Connors again returned to court to discuss the CDC affidavit filed by Floyd and Connors earlier in the year, which the McGuires were disputing. Floyd confirmed she had received unemployment for a short time during the pandemic, including the extra $600 allotted by the federal government. Judge Michaud questioned why they had not paid any rent during that time. Floyd stated that the extra money was going to other living expenses, including utilities, during that time. She also stated that the condition of the house was an issue and had led them to hold back rent.
The judge stated he would need another day to determine whether eviction could happen right away, or needed to wait until the moratorium was lifted.
A game where nobody wins
In the end, it seems like nobody really won here. The McGuires have lost approximately a year’s worth of rental income, and Floyd and Connors lost most of their employment income. Two families were stressed beyond belief, the landlords because they lost rent, the tenants because they were allegedly living in a situation that no one should have to endure. An unfunded eviction moratorium left both parties in a tough situation, a poor epilogue to a rental relationship that, by all accounts, started out beneficial for everyone and ended up in a nightmare for all.
There is a lesson here for all landlords. A rental home should be above reproach when it is leased to a tenant. Renting out a housing unit that has structural or other issues has the potential to cost far more than the price of getting things up to snuff. If Floyd and Connors began renting the house in October 2018 for the $1600 a month they reported, the McGuires received approximately 15 months of rent before things went sour between the parties. That amounts to $24,000, a mere $3,000 more (roughly) than what they are now owed. It’s hard to see that as worth it in light of all the trouble it was to even get to court.
As of publication, the judge was still taking the matter under advisement, with judgment ordered but an exact eviction date still to be determined. We will continue to update this story as things progress. Jennifer Rau contributed court reporting for this story.