How to Talk to your Representative and Senator

 

Special Message for January 2023 Bill Filing

 

Landlord, Manager and Investor Dos and Don’ts for Talking with Elected Officials

Do

  • Plan to talk to an aide as primary point of contact.
  • Learn what your representative or senator or their aide is working on and which committees they’re assigned to, if any.
  • Ask if you can share a little about yourself and your business.
    • Make your story relatable: For example, tell them how you helped a renter during Covid (we all did), or why you like living in Massachusetts or your town.
  • Gently present the need for big changes.
  • Use your own words, but stick mostly to the conceptual talking points prepared by MassLandlords.
  • Have a fact or two from MassLandlords case studies.
  • Relate the problem to someone or some place in their home district.
  • Ask if they've thought about this issue before, and if so, what their position is and why.
  • Be even-handed when discussing judges or other public officials. You may have had a bad experience with someone that the representative or senator knows and respects.
  • If you know their record, ask why they voted a certain way.
  • It's okay to say "I don’t know, let me ask MassLandlords" if they have a question you can't answer. We follow up.
  • Talk to reps and senators who are not on the "housing provider side." Usually we all become better educated when we hear diverse and disagreeing viewpoints presented respectfully.
  • Remember a rep or a senator got their job because their message appeals to a broad audience. Few are landlords and few understand how expensive housing has become to operate.
  • Get to know the staff on their team, their names and backgrounds.
  • Thank them for helping us in the past, if they have.
  • Leave them with a clear understanding of what you want (e.g., "file or sponsor this bill").
  • Leave them looking forward to their next meeting with a MassLandlords volunteer.

DON’T

  • Don’t bring up too many issues. A typical day for a rep or senator is a stream of different, thorny issues.
  • Don’t bring up issues unrelated to MassLandlords. You can arrange a separate meeting to talk about your own agenda or the agenda of other groups. As a MassLandlords volunteer, focus on housing.
  • Don't treat others worse than how you'd want to be treated:
    • Don’t threaten, pressure, beg or attack.
    • Don’t raise your voice or do anything else to put them on the defensive.
    • Don't assume malice where lack of awareness will explain everything.
  • Don’t overstate the case or repeat yourself. Try to recognize when you're repeating yourself and just acknowledge it, ask if they have any questions.
  • Don’t expect them to understand much about rental properties. It's a specific skillset you have honed over a long period of time.
  • Don’t jump right into the explanation of the problem without setting the stage first. Explain how a rental business works if it's relevant to the bill.
  • Don’t be put off by smokescreens or dodging the question. Bring them back to the main point. Be in control politely. Some people are really focused on renter advocacy because that's their district. That's okay.
  • Don’t promise things you can’t. Never speak for MassLandlords as a group. Take all policy questions back to us.
  • Don’t be afraid to take a position for yourself. "I'm not speaking for MassLandlords, but for me as an owner/manager/investor I feel..."
  • Don’t shy away from meeting with reps or senators who are known to be pro-tenant. Our legal mission is to create better rental housing. We actually have a lot of common ground (not on everything, but a lot of things).
  • Don’t be offended if you can only meet with staff.
  • Don’t leave them hoping never to encounter MassLandlords again.
  • Don't give up on policy. We need every member to help us create better rental housing. It will take time.

Video Transcript

[Start 0:00:00]
Hi! My name is Doug Quattrochi. I’m the executive director of MassLandlords. I want to share with you some tips for being effective reaching out to your rep and senator to help us get these bills filed this January 2023.

Now there’s a two-year legislative session in Massachusetts, and so everybody is asking their rep and senator for the same thing right now, and so that’s why the very first thing you got to remember when you’re approaching your rep and senator is treat them the same way you’d like to be treated when you’re very busy, respectfully and acknowledging that they’ve got a very limited amount of time to spend with each constituent that’s asking for something this time of year.

Ask direct and polite and say, “Look, I need your help. There are some really important problems in our district here and there’s one or two bills that I’d like you to file to help me.” That’s why we’re asking you to focus. I mean there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be fixed in Landlord Tenant Law and Housing in general but focus on one or two things and then really to ask is not for full-blown support to help the bill become law. You’re just asking to get it filed. That’s a very manageable thing.

Now there’s two ways a bill could be filed. It can be filed under the law. A rep or senator has to file it, or it could be filed because the rep or senator wants to do it of their own accord. Now if they’re filing it under the law because they have to, because their constituent has asked, they will make that clear to all the other legislators that they work with or their colleagues. They’ll say, “The bill has been filed by request of a constituent.”

What you’d like to do is have enough time with an aide to explain why this is important and if you can to learn about what that rep or senator hopes to accomplish because they have their own ideas about being in public service and what they want to do and really try to make it fit with what they’re working on if possible.

Really what you’re trying to do is help them to file that bill because they believe in it themselves, and that will also really help us down the road. When there’s a hearing that comes up with that bill, when there’s anything going on with it, an amendment or something, they will let you know and you will let us know. That’s really what we want.

It’s really that simple. Don’t expect to talk directly to the rep or senator. If you talk to an aide, that’s great. They’re professional. They’re going to be helpful. They’re going to be very able to communicate your request to the rep or senator and remember that these bills are just a dozen of about 2,000 or 3,000 that will be filed this month, so there’s an awful lot of work to do that’s why we’re going to contain it to a very specific set of requests.

With everything you do, think long term. You’re probably a long-term investor. You buy and hold. You’re operating rental property. That’s going to be true with your rep or senator. They’re going to be in public service for a long time, possibly their entire career, so you want to get to know what they’re interested in, and you want to be available to them if they have specific asks, so they might need support with another initiative. Maybe you can get onboard with it. They might need other kinds of help or they want to include you on their mailing list or whatever, try to be helpful to them, too, because we’re all in the Commonwealth together, all trying to make the state a better place, so yes, that’s a good way to approach it. Of course, if you want to have MassLandlords staff for volunteers besides yourself at a meeting with a rep or senator, you’re more than welcome to ask for that. We will schedule it, and we will be there to support you.

Thanks very much for helping get these bills filed. We really need it, and you can let us know if you have any questions, but don’t be intimidated. Last words of encouragement: your rep and your senator depend on hearing from constituents to know what’s important in their district, and so you’re bringing them useful information about a problem that they can fix and you get the bill text already drafted, which makes it very easy. You’re just asking for them to file and we can take the rest from there.

Yes, thanks very much for the support and you’ll be great. We’ll be in touch.

[End 0:03:56]

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