Questions and Answers for April 2016

q and aAdapted from our Message Boards, where members can ask questions and get answers. Practicing landlords and service providers answer questions, and we combine the best answers into one here.

Q: I have a three family house. The third floor's only utility is electricity. The lighting in the stairwells, the outdoor motion lights and the lights in the garage (garage is used by 3rd floor only) are on the 3rd floor's meter. Do I have to include electricity in the lease or can I disclose that the mentioned lighting is on their meter and have them pay without being sued?

Including electrical would be consistent with what the tenant advocates call "incorrect metering":

But you're very close to being able to charge them. You have a three-unit, and according to

CMR 410.254:   Light in Passageways, Hallways, and Stairways

(B)   In a dwelling containing three or fewer dwelling units, the light fixtures used to illuminate a common hallway, passageway, foyer and/or stairway may be wired to the electric service serving an adjacent dwelling unit provided that if the occupant of such dwelling unit is responsible for paying for the electric service to such dwelling unit:
(1)   a written agreement shall state that the occupant is responsible for paying for light in the common hallway, passageway, foyer and/or stairway; and
(2)   the owner shall notify the occupants of the other dwelling units.

Your exterior motion lights aren't on the list of approved areas (hallway, passageway, foyer, stairway). If you rewired those to the landlord meter you could charge the tenant provided you follow 1 and 2 above, and that the garage is under the exclusive use of this tenant.

Q: My tenant is here legally (they're okay) but doesn't have a SSN or EIN for me to open a security deposit account. What do I do?

Security Deposits "shall not be subject to the claims of any creditor of the lessor", which means, cannot be discovered under the landlord's tax ID. Read more here. This means you must open the account in the SSN or EIN of the tenant, so you're doing the right thing.

We spoke with Avidia Bank, a MassLandlords advertiser, and they sent the following suggestion:

If a tenant has no SS#, they can get a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) easily.  Even if they are foreigners, I believe they can get a TIN.  If they are here on a visa, we could use the ID number on that as well but ideally they need to get a TIN.