Questions and Answers for July 2016

Adapted 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.

questions and answersRazor wire or barbed wire is one way to stop trespassers. by Mr Granger, Wikipedia

Q: My property abuts another on a neighboring street at the rear of the lot. Non-tenants are walking through mine in order to access the other property. I have already talked to the non-tenants, built a fence, and posted no-trespassing signs. There is no easement or right of way. I believe they have stolen something off my property and may be selling drugs. What can I do?

This is a bad situation! Your tenants don’t want to see non-residents walking past their back door, conducting drug deals, or taking their stuff!

You have already done all the correct things. (You are brave for talking to these people and asking them to stop walking through.) There are some self-help options, and some government-help options.

First, call your local police department and tell them you have heard of drug dealings and want them to stake the place out. Some cities maintain a separate “vice” unit for drugs and prostitution. They can do this discretely to gather evidence. You can help them by asking your tenants to do the same. Note the people, the time of arrival and departure, and any vehicle registrations you can see.

Second, consider self-help: thick axle grease smeared along the top of the fence will prevent most people from climbing over it twice. Be careful, if it’s obvious that you have done this, they will be angry at you. Don’t get caught. You can also plant roses or pyracantha as a natural “barbed wire”, but these will need time to grow.

Massachusetts law about barbed wire establishes a one-time fine for placement within 6’ of the ground if along a public way, which is not applicable to your situation unless you have an easement or something like power lines running behind the lot.

Local city ordinance will rule in most cases on barbed wire. The City of Cambridge once proposed to ban barbed wire, but it doesn’t appear to be enacted in the current zoning regulations. The City of Worcester zoning is also mute on barbed wire, although it has a lot to say about fences.

Q: I collected security deposits and after reviewing the MassLandlords checklist, I’ve determined that I did not conform 100%. Can I make it better?

Thank you for reviewing the security deposit checklist! Whether you can make it better depends on your relationship with the tenant, and which part of the law has not been complied with. The default advice is, “Give the security deposit back.”

You may be able to keep the security deposit if you have a good relationship with your tenants. If they decide to take you to court, they may be able to get triple damages depending on which mistakes you made.

The best way to do it would be to close out whatever account you have the deposit in now and write them a check for the security deposit amount plus interest. The law allows you to take a deposit mid-tenancy as long as it doesn’t ever exceed one month’s rent. After the first deposit is given back, take a second one. Then follow the checklist to the letter on this second deposit.

If you end up in court, the security deposit you have was taken mid-tenancy, and the judge should (we can’t guarantee this) should only look at what happened for that particular deposit.

The intent of the triple damages is the presumption that the deposit has been lost in its totality. Returning the first deposit should (we can’t guarantee this) should eliminate that presumption.

If you end up in court, and the attorney says to give the first or second deposit back, do it without hesitation.